Around the Island

From Flappers to Feminists: A Special Friday Night Dialogue

The year 2020 marks the centennial of the passing of the 19th Amendment which guaranteed women the right to vote. There has been no shortage of books, articles, commentaries, lectures and specials of all kinds on the long, hard battle for suffrage and the many women who gave their all so that half of the United States population could finally have a voice.

On Friday, Sept. 25, WSHU radio critic Joan Baum will present another look at this era during the Shelter Island Library’s Friday Night Dialogue program entitled “Flappers, Feminists and Fascination with Fitzgerald: A Reconsideration of America’s New 1920s Woman in 2020.” The program will be held at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

The image of “flappers” is often one of ditzy young women, who, reveling in the end of World War I, danced the Charleston and drank the night away in speakeasies, usually in short, convention-flouting dresses. It’s easy to envision them with their freshly bobbed hair, feather-sporting headbands, long strings of beads, fringed skirts and ever-present cigarette holders…hardly the image of the serious suffragette. 

As Ms. Baum began researching this topic, however, she concluded that the flapper decade was far more complex than what was typically portrayed in Roaring Twenties movies and music.

She was surprised to find “other women engaging in the culture who were also serious “moderns,” intent on working, being independent and establishing solid middle class careers, many of them, like Dorothy Parker, witty women who ironically embraced and mocked the so-called movement at the same time. Zelda Fitzgerald may well have been another.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby certainly threw wild bashes to attract Daisy’s notice, and cinematic portrayals love to feature these, but, as Ms. Baum said in an e-mail, “readers of Fitzgerald’s iconic 1925 novel know, that, like his narrator, (Fitzgerald) was critical of the wilder aspects of flapper life, and of his wife, who seemed to embody its more hedonistic aspects.”

A re-reading of “The Great Gatsby” led her to a deeper examination of the life and times of the flapper and her impact on the culture of the time. Appropriately costumed, Ms. Baum will share her insights into this time in history, helping us gain a new perspective on this era past. 

A Springs resident, Joan Baum is a “recovering academic” from City University of New York who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing.  She has had a long career as a critic and reviewer for publications such as WNYC, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, MIT’s Technology Review, Hadassah Magazine, among others. Her work has ranged from the major English Romantic poets to all aspects of cultural history, with particular interest in topics at the nexus of humanities and the sciences.

Please register for this program at least 30 minutes in advance of the 7 p.m. starting time by going to silibrary.org. After registering, you’ll receive a link to attend the event. If you have any questions on the program or how to access it, please contact Jocelyn Ozolins at [email protected]

Next up:  On Friday, October 16, author Deborah Burns will discuss her new memoir, “Saturday’s Child.”  It recounts her experiences of growing up with a beautiful and charismatic mother who eschewed the norms of 1950’s domesticity and motherhood and who was raised by spinster aunts while her mother pursued a vibrant social life. Later in the month, Ms. Burns will also lead a workshop called “Skirting the Rules,” that focuses on reinvention for women aged 50 plus.