By 1922, “the Flapper” had become a full-blown cultural phenomenon. In the following article, Ellen Welles Page, a self-described “semi-flapper,” attempted to explain the appeal of the flapper and pled with America’s mothers and fathers not to reflexively judge their flapper daughters.
If one judges by appearances, I suppose I am a flapper. I am within the age limit. I wear bobbed hair, the badge of flapperhood. (And, oh, what a comfort it is!). I powder my nose. I wear fringed skirts and bright-colored sweaters, and scarfs, and waists with Peter Pan collars, and low-heeled “finale hopper” shoes. I adore to dance. I spend a large amount of time in automobiles. I attend hops, and proms, and ball-games, and crew races, and other affairs at men’s colleges. But none the less some of the most thoroughbred superflappers might blush to claim sistership or even remote relationship with such as I. I don’t use rouge, or lipstick, or pluck my eyebrows. I don’t smoke (I’ve tried it, and don’t like it), or drink, or tell “peppy stories.” I don’t pet. And, most unpardonable infringement of all the rules and regulations of Flapperdom, I haven’t a line! But then–there are many degrees of flapper. There is the semi-flapper; the flapper; the superflapper. Each of these three main general divisions has its degrees of variation. I might possibly be placed somewhere in the middle of the first class.
I want to beg all you parents, and grandparents, and friends, and teachers, and preachers–you who constitute the “older generation”–to overlook our shortcomings, at least for the present, and to appreciate our virtues. I wonder if it ever occurred to any of you that it required brains to become and remain a successful flapper? Indeed it does! It requires an enormous amount of cleverness and energy to keep going at the proper pace. It requires self-knowledge and self-analysis. We must know our capabilities and limitations. We must be constantly on the alert. Attainment of flapperhood is a big and serious undertaking!
“Brains?” you repeat, skeptically. “Then why aren’t they used to better advantage?” That is exactly it! And do you know who is largely responsible for all this energy being spent in the wrong directions? You! You parents, and grandparents, and friends, and teachers, and preachers–all of you! “The war!” you cry. “It is the effect of the war!” And then you blame prohibition. Yes! Yet it is you who set the example there! But this is my point: Instead of helping us work out our problems with constructive, sympathetic thinking and acting, you have muddled them for us more hopelessly with destructive public condemnation and denunciation.
Think back to the time when you were struggling through the teens. Remember how spontaneous and deep were the joys, how serious and penetrating the sorrows. Most of us, under the present system of modern education, are further advanced and more thoroughly developed mentally, physically, and vocationally than were our parents at our age. We hold the infinite possibilities of the myriads of new inventions within our grasp. We have learned to take for granted conveniences, and many luxuries, which not so many years ago were as yet undreamed of. We are in touch with the whole universe. We have a tremendous problem on our hands. You must help us. Give us confidence–not distrust. Give us practical aid and advice–not criticism. Praise us when praise is merited. Be patient and understanding when we make mistakes.
We are the Younger Generation. The war tore away our spiritual foundations and challenged our faith. We are struggling to regain our equilibrium. The times have made us older and more experienced than you were at our age. It must be so with each succeeding generation if it is to keep pace with the rapidly advancing and mighty tide of civilization. Help us to put our knowledge to the best advantage. Work with us! That is the way! Outlets for this surplus knowledge and energy must be opened. Give us a helping hand.
Youth has many disillusionments. Spiritual forces begin to be felt. The emotions are frequently in a state of upheaval, struggling with one another for supremacy. And Youth does not understand. There is no one to turn to–no one but the rest of Youth, which is as perplexed and troubled with its problems as ourselves. Everywhere we read and hear the criticism and distrust of older people toward us. It forms an insurmountable barrier between us. How can we turn to them? In every person there is a desire, an innate longing, toward some special goal or achievement. Each of us has his place to fill.
… It is up to you who have the supervision of us of less ripe experience to guide us sympathetically, and to help us find, encourage, and develop our special abilities and talents. Study us. Make us realize that you respect us as fellow human beings, that you have confidence in us, and, above all, that you expect us to live up to the highest ideals, and to the best that is in us.
Source: Ellen Welles Page, “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents,” Outlook, December 6, 1922, p. 607. Available via Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=jb9OAQAAMAAJ).