‘Decade of Change: Florida in the 1920s’ opens Nov. 4

Women on Miami Beach, 1925. Courtesy of State Archives of Florida.
Young women enjoying a day at Miami Beach, Florida. [Courtesy of State Archives of Florida]

Bootleggers flooded cities with prohibited booze, flappers danced to jazz, and workers erected bungalows and Mediterranean Revival-style suburban homes in Florida in the 1920s. However, the experiences of riotous intemperate outlaws, dance champions, and sprawling suburbs were not the be-all and end-all of Florida’s first modern decade. Florida’s Jim Crow system was violently enforced, and a fundamentalist Christian religious revival movement swept the state and the broader U.S. during the decade. In short, a lot was going on in Florida in the 1920s.

Want to learn about these things and more? If your answer is yes, you are in luck! On Nov. 4, 2023, the Tampa Bay History Center will unveil Decade of Change: Florida in the 1920s. This exhibition will provide a glimpse of the fashion, music, architecture, politics, and religious trends that defined Florida in the 1920s.

Decade of Change will have many interesting objects on display, including swimsuits. In the 1920s, bathing suit designers ditched stockings and bloomers and exposed parts of the knee and lower thigh, much to the chagrin of the American Association of Park Superintendents, which issued Bathing Suit Regulations in 1917 that stated swim skirts could be no more than two inches above the knee. Down in Miami, Jane Fisher, the wife of developer Carl Fisher, credited herself with bringing fabric-light suits to the beach. An avid swimmer, she detested bulky swimwear. She wrote that after wearing a new-fangled suit in South Florida, “not a black cotton stocking was to be seen on the beach.” Along with bathing attire, Decade of Change will have objects that tell the story of Prohibition. The state of Florida legally went dry in 1919, a year before nationwide alcohol prohibition. Yet even before that, local and statewide laws caused many counties to go dry between 1900 and 1918. Objects in the show that tell this story include a pro-Prohibition Polk County newsletter and photos of Tampa judge Leo Stalnaker, a staunch Prohibition champion.

Tin Can Tourists by the Burgert Brothers
Tin Can Tourists by the Burgert Brothers. [Tampa Bay History Center Collection]
The 1920s was also the decade of the motoring tourist. Earlier tourists almost universally boarded trains or steamboats to come to Florida, but by the 1920s, many drove fancy coupes, jalopies, and vehicles in between. Roughly 2.5 million tourists vacationed in Florida in 1925 alone, and many took advantage of Florida’s new roadways. During the 1920s tourist boom, many vacationers stayed in motorist camps, and one of the first was established at Tampa’s DeSoto Park. We have items from this camp, so you can learn all about it! Florida tourists and residents alike played sports and cheered on their professional sporting heroes in the 1920s. For the spectating set, no sport was more popular than baseball.

The Pepsi Cola Giants were a "Negro League" team that played in Florida and Cuba in the 1920s and beyond. This photograph of the Giants in front of their bus was taken in 1940. [Tampa Bay History Center Collection]
The Pepsi Cola Giants were a “Negro League” team that played in Florida and Cuba in the 1920s and beyond. This photograph of the Giants in front of their bus was taken in 1940. [Tampa Bay History Center Collection]
Like baseball, the popularity of golf and tennis grew in the 1920s. Many developments, like Tampa’s Davis Islands, built tennis clubs for residents and hosted tournaments. The Dixie Cup was held at the Davis Islands Tennis Club for the first time in 1925. All the while, golf greats Babe Zaharias, Bobbie Jones, Walter Hagen, and more played competitive matches on newly constructed Florida courses. Scores upon scores of amateurs also hit the links, and Florida became a premier golf mecca. Decade of Change closes with a look at the Jim Crow politics of the 1920s, architecture, and the rise of religious fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. Jim Crow and anti-immigrant sentiment were primary features of Florida politics in the 1920s. All the while, Pentecostalism, revivals, and radio preachers influenced American culture in the 1920s, as bungalows were built in the suburbs. The 1920s were an interesting time, and Decade of Change will be a great and multi-faceted show. See you in the gallery!

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