Exploring What Fundamentalists Did in the 1920s: Understanding the Religious and Cultural Movements

In the 1920s, something interesting happened in America: fundamentalists came into the spotlight. These were people who believed in traditional Christian values and thought that society was straying too far from them. They were concerned that modern science and thinking were challenging their religious beliefs. So, they set out to make some drastic changes.

Fundamentalists were not content with keeping quiet about their beliefs. They wanted to make their views known and influence others to join them. This led to bold actions such as rallies, marches, and even book burnings. They didn’t hold back in expressing themselves, and their passion for their cause could be quite contagious.

Despite some backlash from the more liberal-minded members of society, fundamentalists continued to push for their beliefs. They were determined to make a change and preserve what they saw as the moral fabric of society. In many ways, they were a force to be reckoned with, and their efforts shaped the course of history in a significant way.

Scopes Monkey Trial

The Scopes Monkey Trial, also known as the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, was a sensational court case that took place in the summer of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. The case focused on the legality of teaching evolution in public schools since fundamentalists argued that such teachings contradicted Biblical teachings about the creation story.

In March of 1925, Tennessee passed the Butler Act, a law prohibiting the teaching of any theory that denied the biblical account of the creation of man. John T. Scopes, a high school biology teacher, willingly agreed to test the validity of the Butler Act when he taught the theory of evolution in his classroom.

The trial was highly publicized and drew national attention as two of the best lawyers, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, represented opposing sides. Bryan, a three-time Democratic presidential candidate and devout Christian, defended the Butler Act while Darrow, an agnostic, defended Scopes and saw the case as an opportunity to challenge restrictive interpretations of the Bible.

  • The trial lasted only eleven days but exposed the deep tension between science and religion and sparked a national debate.
  • Bryan’s argument rested on a strict interpretation of the Bible and his belief that the Bible was the infallible word of God.
  • Darrow’s argument relied heavily on the modernist approach to interpreting the Bible and introduced scientific evidence to argue for the truth of evolution.

Although Scopes was found guilty and fined $100, the trial exposed the growing cultural conflict between modernity and tradition and advanced the public understanding of science and religion.

Key PlayersRole
John T. ScopesA high school biology teacher who taught evolution in his classroom and became the defendant in the case.
William Jennings BryanA three-time Democratic presidential candidate and devout Christian who defended the Butler Act.
Clarence DarrowAn agnostic lawyer who defended Scopes and challenged restrictive interpretations of the Bible.

Many historians see the Scopes Monkey Trial as a turning point in American culture and a precursor to the eventual acceptance of evolution in mainstream society.

Teapot Dome Scandal

The Teapot Dome Scandal was one of the most significant events of the 1920s, involving corruption and controversy that shook the nation. This scandal was a result of the involvement of prominent politicians and businessmen, who illegally profited from government oil reserves, specifically the Teapot Dome oilfield in Wyoming.

  • During this time, fundamentalists were among those who were outraged by the scandal, as it highlighted the corruption and greed that they believed was prevalent in modern society. They saw the scandal as a symptom of the moral decline of the country, and a dangerous trend towards the exploitation of public resources for personal gain.
  • Fundamentalists also used the scandal to further their anti-modernist agenda, arguing that it was the result of a larger cultural shift away from traditional values and towards a materialistic and selfish lifestyle. This rhetoric was used to advocate for a return to traditional beliefs and practices.
  • The Teapot Dome Scandal ultimately resulted in the conviction of several high-profile individuals, as well as increased government oversight and accountability. It served as a cautionary tale for those who sought to abuse their power and influence for personal gain, and reinforced the need for transparency and ethical behavior within the government and private sector.

In conclusion, the Teapot Dome Scandal was a defining moment in the 1920s, highlighting the corruption and greed that was present in American politics and society. Fundamentalists viewed this scandal as a symbol of the moral decline of the country, and used it as a rallying cry for their anti-modernist agenda. While the scandal had significant repercussions, it ultimately served as a reminder of the importance of transparency, accountability, and ethical behavior in all aspects of society.

Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a white supremacist organization that emerged in the United States after the Civil War, but experienced a resurgence in the 1920s. During this time, the Klan attracted millions of members and wielded significant political power. The organization targeted African Americans, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants, and its members engaged in violent intimidation tactics such as lynching and cross burning.

  • The Klan’s membership and influence reached its peak in the 1920s, with estimates of up to 4 million members nationwide.
  • The Klan’s revival was fueled in part by fears of societal changes such as increased immigration, the rise of urbanization, and the changing role of women.
  • Through the use of media campaigns, Klan leaders portrayed themselves as patriotic defenders of traditional American values.

Despite the Klan’s popularity, its influence began to decline in the late 1920s as its leaders were exposed for corruption and criminal activities. State and federal laws were enacted to curb the Klan’s activities, and membership declined significantly over the following decades.

Impact of the KKK in the 1920sDescription
Political powerThe KKK controlled several state legislatures, including Indiana and Oregon, and had significant influence over others.
Social intimidationThe KKK engaged in violent acts of intimidation such as lynching, cross burning, and physical assault to terrorize their targets.
Media campaignsThe KKK utilized newspapers, pamphlets, and other forms of media to spread their message and recruit new members.

The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s serves as a reminder of the dangers of extremist groups and their ability to manipulate public opinion and political power for their own agendas. It is a period in American history that should be examined and learned from, in order to prevent the perpetuation of hate and discrimination in our society.

Women’s Suffrage Movement

The 1920s is often referred to as the “Roaring Twenties” – a time when cultural and social norms were challenged, and the role of women in society underwent significant changes. One of the most significant events of this time was the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which had been ongoing since the mid-19th century.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement was a campaign that fought for women’s right to vote and run for office. The movement culminated in the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, which granted women the right to vote. The suffrage movement was led by women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul, who organized campaigns, protests, and rallies to raise awareness of the issue.

  • Women’s Suffrage Movement highlights:
  • The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, where the Declaration of Sentiments was adopted.
  • The 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, after a long and difficult struggle by suffragists across the country.
  • The Women’s Suffrage Movement played a significant role in advancing other equal rights causes, including civil rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement was met with significant opposition from fundamentalists, who saw the movement as a threat to traditional gender roles and family values. Many fundamentalists saw women’s suffrage as a challenge to the Biblical concept of male headship, which dictated that men should be the leaders within the family and society as a whole.

Fundamentalist leaders like William Jennings Bryan and J. Gresham Machen were vocal opponents of women’s suffrage. They argued that it was a deviation from the Biblical concept of male headship and could lead to disastrous consequences for traditional family values. Some even went as far as to argue that women’s suffrage would lead to feminist ideologies that would undermine societal norms and values.

Granted women the right to voteOpposed by traditionalists and fundamentalists
Advanced equal rights causes for women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ individualsSeen as a threat to traditional gender roles and family values
Enabled women to participate in the democratic process and become involved in politics and governmentSome argued that it went against the Biblical concept of male headship

Despite opposition, the Women’s Suffrage Movement proved to be a pivotal moment in American history. It paved the way for women’s participation in the democratic process and helped secure other equal rights for minorities and marginalized groups.


In the 1920s, fundamentalists played a key role in the push for Prohibition. Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages between 1920 and 1933. The temperance movement, which had been active for decades, was primarily made up of Protestants who held strong religious convictions against drinking.

Fundamentalists, who believed in a strict adherence to biblical teachings, saw alcohol consumption as a sin and a threat to the moral fabric of society. They believed that Prohibition was necessary to protect America’s Christian heritage and to prevent the corruption of the nation’s youth. Many fundamentalist leaders, such as William Jennings Bryan, actively campaigned for the passage of the 18th Amendment, which implemented Prohibition.

Impact of Prohibition

  • Prohibition led to a surge in organized crime as bootleggers found ways to continue selling alcohol illegally.
  • It resulted in an increase in government corruption as officials were bribed to turn a blind eye to the illegal alcohol trade.
  • Prohibition also led to the spread of speakeasies, secret establishments where people could drink alcohol, further undermining the law and law enforcement efforts to stop the sale of alcohol.

Repeal of Prohibition

The failure of Prohibition to achieve its intended goals ultimately led to its repeal. In 1933, the 21st Amendment was passed, repealing the 18th Amendment and effectively ending Prohibition. Despite the efforts of fundamentalists and other temperance advocates, Prohibition was widely seen as a failure and a misguided attempt to impose moral values through legislation. Today, Prohibition serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers of attempting to legislate morality.

Alcohol and Christianity Today

While many fundamentalists still maintain a strong opposition to alcohol consumption, Christianity as a whole has become more accepting of moderate alcohol consumption. The Bible has many references to alcohol, and Jesus himself is said to have turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Many Christians now see alcohol as a neutral substance that can be enjoyed in moderation without sinning, as long as it does not lead to drunkenness or harm to oneself or others.

Biblical References to AlcoholMeaning
Proverbs 23:29-35Warning against drunkenness and the consequences of alcohol abuse.
1 Timothy 5:23Encouragement to use wine medicinally.
John 2:1-11Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding.

Overall, while fundamentalists played a key role in the push for Prohibition in the 1920s, attitudes towards alcohol and its place in Christian life have since evolved. Today, many Christians see alcohol as a neutral substance that can be enjoyed in moderation without sinning.

Immigration Laws

In the early 20th century, the United States experienced a surge of immigration, particularly from Southern and Eastern Europe. This influx of people led to tensions between immigrants and native-born Americans, and it fueled the rise of the nativist movement. Fundamentalists were among those who supported strict immigration laws in the 1920s, and they played a role in making those laws a reality.

  • The Immigration Act of 1921 established quotas for different countries based on the number of people from that country already living in the United States. This law aimed to limit the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe by giving preference to immigrants from Northern and Western Europe, where the majority of white Americans could trace their ancestry.
  • The Immigration Act of 1924 took the quota system a step further by drastically reducing the number of immigrants allowed into the United States each year. This law also made it more difficult for immigrants from Asia to enter the country.
  • The National Origins Act of 1929 further reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the United States and made the formula for determining quotas more complex. This law also established the Border Patrol to enforce immigration restrictions and prevent illegal immigration.

Fundamentalists supported these immigration laws because they believed that American culture and values were under threat from the diverse and foreign elements of immigrant communities. They feared that the influx of immigrants from non-Protestant countries would undermine the country’s Christian heritage and contribute to moral decay.

Their concern over the perceived dangers of immigration highlights their isolationist worldview and their belief in the superiority of American culture and values. However, these restrictive immigration laws were a significant departure from the country’s founding principles as a nation of immigrants, and they had lasting effects on the country’s demographics and social fabric.

Immigration LawsYear EnactedKey Provisions
Immigration Act of 19211921Established quotas based on the number of people from each country living in the United States
Immigration Act of 19241924Reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the United States and restricted immigration from Asia
National Origins Act of 19291929Further reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the United States and made the quota formula more complex

Overall, the immigration laws of the 1920s were a reflection of the nativist and isolationist sentiments of the time, and fundamentalists were among those who supported these restrictions. However, these laws also represented a departure from the country’s founding principles as a nation of immigrants, and their effects can still be felt today.

Red Scare

During the 1920s, the fear of communism and socialism grew to unprecedented heights in the United States. This fear, known as the Red Scare, began during World War I and intensified in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which established the world’s first communist government. The fear was further reinforced by a series of bombings targeting government officials and a wave of strikes that swept the country in 1919.

  • The federal government responded to the Red Scare by launching a series of raids against suspected radicals, anarchists, and Bolsheviks. In 1919-1920, thousands of people were arrested and detained without trial under the newly passed Espionage and Sedition Acts.
  • State and local governments also joined the anti-communist crusade, with many passing laws banning the teaching of evolution or limiting freedom of speech and association.
  • The Ku Klux Klan, which had experienced a resurgence in the early 1920s, targeted not only African Americans but also Jews, Catholics, and foreigners as part of its anti-communist campaign.

The Red Scare had a profound impact on American society. It created a climate of fear and suspicion that lasted for many years and led to the persecution of innocent people. The laws and policies enacted during this period curtailed civil liberties and had a chilling effect on free speech and political dissent. The legacy of the Red Scare can still be felt today, as the fear of communism and socialism remains a potent political force.

Impact of the Red ScarePositiveNegative
Curtailing of radicalismX
Loyalty oathsX
Creation of the FBIX
Limiting of freedom of speech and assemblyX
Heightened fear of communism and socialismX

Overall, the Red Scare was a dark period in American history, marked by fear and intolerance. It reminds us of the dangers of demonizing political dissent and the importance of protecting civil liberties, even in times of crisis.

FAQs: What Did Fundamentalists Do in the 1920s?

1. What is fundamentalism?

Fundamentalism is a religious movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century in response to perceived threats to traditional Christian beliefs and values.

2. Why did fundamentalists become active in the 1920s?

Fundamentalists became active in the 1920s due to the rising popularity of modernism and scientific theories that were seen as contradicting Biblical teachings.

3. What was the fundamentalist movement’s main goal?

The fundamentalist movement’s main goal was to expose and resist what they saw as liberal Protestantism, which they believed was corrupting Christian beliefs and values.

4. What did fundamentalists do to promote their beliefs?

Fundamentalists organized revival meetings, published Christian literature, and established institutions such as schools and seminaries to promote their beliefs.

5. What was the Scopes Monkey Trial?

The Scopes Monkey Trial was a highly publicized court case in 1925 in which a Tennessee teacher, John Scopes, was charged with teaching evolution, which was illegal under state law. The trial pitted fundamentalists against modernists and ultimately ended in Scopes’ conviction.

6. Did fundamentalism continue after the 1920s?

Yes, fundamentalism continued to be a significant force in American Christianity, particularly in evangelical circles, throughout the 20th century and into the present day.

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