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AQA GCSE History: America, 1920–1973: Opportunity and inequality Glossary

The key vocabulary you need to learn for your AQA GCSE History paper. Find all the terms and definitions you need to understand, from ‘Alphabet Agencies’ to ‘US Constitution’

A - B (Alphabet Agencies to buying on the margin)

Alphabet Agencies

The Alphabet Agencies was the nickname for the federal organisations established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of his New Deal to help America out of the Depression. Included in the Alphabet Agencies were the Agricultural Adjustment Agency (AAA), National Recovery Administration (NRA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)


Anarchism is the belief that people should organise themselves through voluntary cooperation. Anarchists do not believe in organised government, political institutions, or laws.


Antisemitism is discrimination towards Jews.

assembly line

An assembly line is a production line in a factory where goods are produced in large quantities.


Bootleggers are people who bring alcohol from one country into a second country illegally.


Boycott means avoidance. It is the refusal to use something.


Breadlines refers to queues of people lining up for free food from a charitable organisation.

buying on the margin

Buying on the margin is a method of buying shares with a small deposit of 10 per cent, then paying the remaining amount of the purchase price with some of the profits made when the shares are sold.

C - D (Cash and Carry Plan to Dust Bowl)

Cash and Carry Plan
Cash and Carry Plan was the name given to the plan that enabled Britain and France to start buying US weapons, warships, and planes in November 1939.

Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement was the campaign for equal opportunities and access to employment, housing, and education, as well as the right to vote and the right to be free of racial discrimination.

Communism is an economic and political system under which the government controls the economy, and politicians (not businesses) decide what and how many goods are made. In theory, wealth is shared more equally and there isn’t a big gap between rich and poor.

consumer goods
Consumer good are goods (items) that people buy.

Consumerism is the idea that the ever-increasing consumption of goods is beneficial for the economy.

Democratic Party

The Democratic Party is one of the two main political parties in US politics. The Party is often seen as more liberal.


The Depression is a time in a country’s history when factories close, banks fail, and unemployment reaches record levels.


A dividend is a percentage of a company’s profits paid to shareholders.


The unjust treatment of people because they belong to a particular group is called discrimination. People experience discrimination for many reasons, including race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.

Dust Bowl

A drought on the Plains combined with unsustainable farming methods led to millions of acres of dry topsoil being blown away, creating a huge area of farmland – known as the Dust Bowl – where good quality crops couldn’t be grown.

E - F (economic boom to freedom rides)

economic boom

The economic boom is a period in a country’s history when the vast majority of businesses are doing well, sales are high, wages are rising, and unemployment is low.

federal government

The government of the USA is the federal government. It is in charge of things that affect the whole country, like foreign affairs and the army.

feminist movement

Feminist movement is the collective name for the organisations that work to improve women’s rights. It is sometimes called the ‘women’s movement’.


Flappers were usually rich young women who shocked older Americans with their independent behaviour in the 1920s.

freedom rides

Freedom rides refer to occasions when Black and white civil rights campaigners travelled around segregated states sitting next to each other in ‘whites-only’ sections of buses.

G - H (Great Society to Hoovervilles)

Great Society

Great Society was the name given to President Johnson’s programme of reforms that aimed to make America a better, fairer society during his presidency.

hire purchase plan

A hire purchase plan is a way of purchasing goods by paying in small instalments over a long period of time.


Hobos are homeless travelling workers.


Hoovervilles are camps built from cardboard boxes, scrap metal, old cloth, and pallets, and without proper toilets or washing facilities. The name for these camps is a sarcastic reference to President Herbert Hoover, whom many people felt wasn’t doing enough to help people during the Depression.

I - J (import duties to 'Jim Crow Laws')

import duties

An import duty is a tax on foreign goods coming into a country, making them more expensive. Import duties are also known as import tariffs.

import tariffs

An import tariff is a tax on foreign goods coming into a country, making them more expensive. Import tariffs are also known as import duties.

Indigenous Americans

Indigenous Americans are the original inhabitants of America. They lived in America before Euro-Americans arrived.


Isolationism is the idea that America should not play an important role in what is happening in other countries, but should instead concentrate on what is happening domestically.


Jazz is a popular musical style associated with the 1920s.

‘Jim Crow Laws’

‘Jim Crow Laws’ were racist laws that enforced segregation in the southern states of the USA and prevented African-Americans from exercising their rights, such as the right to vote.

L - M (laissez-faire to moonshine)


Laissez-faire is a French phrase meaning ‘leave alone’. It is a policy that limits the government’s role in people’s lives and the way businesses are run.

Lend Lease

Lend Lease was the March 1941 policy which saw America ‘lend’ (rather than sell) weapons, warships, and planes to Britain.

mass production

Mass production is the process of producing goods in large quantities using machinery.


McCarthyism was the campaign against alleged communists. It was named after Senator Joseph McCarthy, a US politician who accused hundreds of people of being communists in the 1950s.


A militant is an extreme, radical person who prepared to use force.


Moonshine is home-made alcohol.

N - O (New Deal to overproducing)

New Deal

Franklin Delano Roosevelt called his idea to tackle the Depression ‘a New Deal for the American people’.

New Frontier

New Frontier was the name given to President Kennedy’s plan to make America a better and fairer place by eliminating poverty and inequality during his presidency.

non-violent direct action

Non-violet direct action are strikes, demonstrations, or other public forms of protest that do not involve violence.

organised crime

Organised crime refers to groups of people, often called gangsters, who work together to break the law. They often run their criminal activities like a business.


Overproducing refers to making more goods than there is demand for and, as a result, many goods remain unsold.

P - R (persecution to rugged individualism)


Persecution is the mistreatment of one individual or group by another.


Racketeering refers to an illegal activity in which gangsters demand payment from a business in return for ‘protection’.


Racism is prejudice against people from a particular ethnic group, typically a minority ethnic group.

Republican Party

The Republican Party is one of the two main political parties in US politics. The Party is often seen as more conservative.

rugged individualism

Rugged individualism is the idea that people should work hard and not rely on anyone else for help, including the government.

S - U (segregation to US Constitution)


Segregations means to keep separate.


Separatism is the idea of keeping races apart.


A sharecropper is a farmer who rented a small area of land from a landowner. They had to give a share of their crop to this landlord.


Shares are units of equal value into which a company is divided. Shares in a company are sold to raise money. People who own shares receive part of the company’s profits in the form of a dividend.


Sit-ins refer to situations where Black students, sometimes accompanied by white students, took a seat in the ‘whites-only’ part of a café or restaurant and refused to leave.


Speakeasies were illegal bars.

star system

Star system is the nickname for the system used by film companies to publicise the celebrity lifestyle of movie stars, not just the movie itself, in the hope of big box office receipts.

stock market

The stock market is a place where investors buy and sell shares. In America in the 1920s, the stock market was situated on Wall Street, in New York.

Supreme Court

The supreme Court is America’s highest court of law, with power to overturn decisions made by other courts and decide whether laws are legal and constitutional.

US Constitution

The US Constitution is the system of laws and basic principles by which the US is governed.