Collegiate Masculinity and the Rise of American Youth: Culture During the Roaring Twenties


  • Chloé Nurik University of Pennsylvania



During the 1920s, youth symbolized modernity, progress, and development as a young generation of Americans espoused new values and served as a lightning rod for social change. College men became emblematic of these transformations as they confronted the values of their educational institutions and asserted unique aspects of their identities, which they believed made them separate and distinct from the previous generation.4 Through on-campus protests, open defiance of Prohibition, and a cavalier attitude towards academics, collegiates defined a new type of masculinity that challenged authority and prioritized peer approval. In addition to these changes, historians cite the increased prominence of college sports (particularly football) and fraternities as evidence of a dramatic transition from an internal, character-based model of masculinity to an external, personality-based model.5 However, a close examination of college records and student publications reveals that many young men attending Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania in this decade sought to retain key aspects of character-based masculinity (such as honor, integrity, and self-sacrifice) while incorporating features of the more modernized version (such as social popularity, physical appearance, and self-indulgence). Their lived experiences call into question the existing historiography by suggesting that notions of masculinity did not shift in an abrupt or absolute manner in the 1920s.6 Campus activities that promoted male bonding and school spirit became more significant in this era but were present in previous decades, showing a continuity in forms of masculine affiliation and rituals across generations. Further, many young men at elite universities struggled to incorporate disparate and opposing notions of masculinity into their identities, adopting a complex, multifaceted construct that simultaneously anchored them to the past and allowed them to embrace the new values of a modernized society.


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Gin, Gentlemen, and Generational Conflict by Chloe Nurik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License