Prohibition (1828-1933)
  1. Historiography
  2. 19th Century Background for Prohibition
  3. 19th Century Temperance Cartoons
  4. The WCTU and the Anti-Saloon League
  5. Carrie Nation: The Saloon Smasher
  6. The Volstead Act Passes Over Wilson's Veto
  7. Anti-Prohibition Song--"Everyone Wants a Key to My Cellar" (1919)
  8. Prohibition, "A Noble Experiment"
  9. The 21st Amendment Repeals Prohibition
  10. Prohibition Lesson Plans
  11. Prohibition Power Point
Analyzing the evolution of the Prohibition movement, this monograph studies the strategies and tactics of its proponents. Unlike earlier anti-drinking organizations whose policies were too absolute, the Anti-Saloon League succeeded because it adopted more moderate tactics and synthesized its national goals with the more limited objectives at the local level.

Ann-Marie E. Szymanski, Pathways to Prohibition: Radicals, Moderates, and Social Movement Outcomes,) (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).

Unlike other social histories, this monograph focues on efforts to medicalize alcoholism. The book focues on the period between the creation of the American Association for the Cure of Inebriates in 1870 and the adoption of the 18th Amendment. Utilizing personal accounts of physicians, lawyers, judges and families effected by alcholhism, it links a medical, social, historical and political narrative of the period and offers valuble new conclusions.

Sarah W. Tracy, Alcoholism in America: From Reconstruction to Prohibition, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2005).
19th Century Background for ProhibitionTop
A strong reformist impulse animated religious life during the Second Great Awakening, as the faithful sought to remake society in God's image. This sentiment extended to civic life, as illustrated by the formation of thousands of Temperance societies. These efforts were successful in reducing the per capita consumption and encouraging stricter state regulation of alcohol.

These two speeches relate to the increasing movement to ban the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. during the 19th century.
Lyman Beecher, the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a famous social activist of the day who was particularly concerned about the negative impact of alcohol on society. Here, in one of his most cited orations, he argues strongly against intemperance and asserts that it is one of the most destructive vices of mankind.
The second speech was delivered by Abraham Lincoln before the Springfield, IL Washington Temperance Society. It touches on the growing success and popularity of the temperance movement, and discusses the obstacles that lay ahead.

Questions to consider:
1. According to Beecher, what are the ill effects of alcohol on the individual, society, and the family?
2. Why does Lincoln praise the Washington Temperance Society (the "Washingtonians") as a more effective temperance promotion agency than the old establishment of preachers and lawyers?
     Lyman Beecher Sermons on Intemperance 1828.rtf  
     Abraham Lincoln Temperance Address.rtf  
Lyman Beecher's "Six Sermons on Intemperance":
Lincoln's Temperance Address:
19th Century Temperance CartoonsTop
The four cartoons focus on the negative impact of alcohol on domestic tranquility.

In the 1850 engraving, "The Drunkard's Home," a cowering family in a squalid home is subjected to the whims of a brutal patriarch.
By contrast, the 1850 engraving, "The Temperance Home," depicts a scene of domestic harmony, order, affection, and material comfort.
The pair of 1855 illustrations, "Tree of Temperance" and "Tree of Intemperance," are rich with symbolic and literal depictions of the consequences of each lifestyle.

Questions to consider:
1. Does the first pair of illustrations depict alcohol as the cause or the effect of unfortunate financial and familial circumstances? Discuss your answer. Do you think this is an accurate message?
2. Describe the gender stereotypes portrayed in these temperance cartoons.
3. Identify and list the symbolic aspects in each of the "Tree" cartoons.
4. Why might visual portrayals of the consequences of each lifestyle be important? List a few reasons.
     Drunkard Home.JPG
     Temperance Home.JPG
     Tree of Intemperance.JPG
     Tree of Temperance.JPG
"The Drunkard's Home" cartoon:
"The Temperance Home" cartoon:
"Tree of Intemperance" cartoon":
"Tree of Temperance" cartoon:
The WCTU and the Anti-Saloon LeagueTop
Two organizations helped to foster prohibition sentiment throughout the United States: the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League. The WCTU fought not only for the cause of prohibition, but represented most progressive reform groups of the day. Under the leadership of notable reformer Frances Willard--national president of the union from 1879 to 1898--the WCTU took up the causes of suffrage, the 8-hour work day, prison reform, and the Social Gospel. The efforts of the WCTU made temperance attractive to numerous reformers. Progressives, for example, viewed Prohibition as a way to attack the bosses of urban political machines, whose headquarters were often located in saloons.
In contrast to the WCTU, the Anti-Saloon League, founded in 1896, focused only on the legal prohibition of alcoholic beverages. The Anti-Saloon League developed modern lobbying techniques that were hugely successful. The League, for example, printed and disseminated anti-drinking brochures, appealed to church members for support, and lobbied both lawmakers and businessmen. The Anti-Saloon League was so persuasive in its lobbying efforts that 28 states had adopted prohibition laws by 1918, before national prohibition went into effect.

In this illustration, The "Ladies of Logan" sing hymns in front of bars in aid of the temperance movement.

Question to consider:
1. Why do you think temperance societies were appealing to Christian, especially evangelical, women? What benefits did women derive from membership in such an organization?
     Ladies Sing for Temperance.jpg
Annotation and illustration:
Carrie Nation: The Saloon SmasherTop
At the turn of the century, the crusade for temperance found a formidable ally in the charismatic Kansan Carrie A. Nation. A member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Nation dedicated her life to the forcible promotion of abstinence from alcohol. She was best known for bursting into barrooms with a crowd of zealous female followers, wielding a hatchet or hammer, and smashing the saloon in the name of Christian decency. Between 1900 and 1910, Nation was arrested some thirty times for her aggressive tactics. [Note: The proper spelling of Mrs. Nation's first name is ambiguous. Both "Carrie" and "Carry" are considered correct.]

In the following excerpt from her autobiography, Carrie Nation describes the spiritual revelation that led her to begin her campaign of saloon smashing. She also alludes to the demise of her first marriage, which ended only months before her husband drank himself to death.
In the lecture poster below, Mrs. Nation is pictured with her famous hatchet and her Bible.

Question to consider:
1. Do you think Carrie Nation's tactics were justified? Why or why not?
     Carry A Nation Carrys Inspiration for Smashing 1908.rtf  
     Carry Nation Poster.jpg
"Carry's Inspiration for Smashing":
Carrie Nation Lecture Poster:
The Volstead Act Passes Over Wilson's VetoTop
The Temperance Movement was a force in American political and social life since before the Civil War. It appealed to many women's groups, rural Protestants, and Progressives who felt that alcohol was the root cause of a variety of social ills. The nation's entry into WWI bolstered the movement because many Americans associated temperance with patriotism due, for example, to the German ownership of breweries and necessity to conserve grain during wartime. Furthermore, the war led to the expansion of government power in a variety of arenas, which may have made people more accepting of such legislation.

The 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919 and took effect in 1920. The Volstead Act was a piece of legislation designed to clarify the new rules surrounding prohibition such as the definition of "intoxicating liquors," the punishments for violating the law, and exceptions to the law for physicians and clergy.
Though Wilson advocated temperance, he vetoed the Volstead Act on constitutional and ethical grounds. His veto was overridden by Congress and the Volstead Act took effect.

Questions to Consider:
1. What exceptions to prohibition did the Volstead Act include?
2. What do you think Wilson's rationale for being opposed to prohibition but supportive of temperance was?
3. What kind of relationship did the President have with Congress at this time?
     Volstead Act.rtf  
     Newpaper Announces Prohibition.gif
The Volstead Act:
The American Issue image:
Anti-Prohibition Song--"Everyone Wants a Key to My Cellar" (1919)Top
An anti-prohibition song (3:02 minutes) that reflects the widespread resistance to the 18th Amendment.
     Down in My Cellar.mp3  
     Key to My Cellar Poster.jpg
"Everybody Wants a Key to my Cellar" was found at
The image of the sheet music cover for "Everybody Wants a Key to my Cellar" was found at
Prohibition, "A Noble Experiment"Top
Along with the sweeping social changes of the interwar era came reactions to those trends. Prohibition went into effect in January 1920 as a result of decades of campaigning by temperance groups, rural Protestants, and some progressives who felt that alcohol represented a scourge on family life and a catalyst to crime. Although the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act outlawed the sale, transport, and consumption of intoxicating beverages, many otherwise law-abiding Americans defied the regulations with impunity. The black market for alcohol was a boon for organized crime, with smuggling garnering much higher revenues than gambling and prostitution.

The first document, "Statistics on Prohibition" shows the slight reduction in liquor consumption after the enactment of the 18th Amendment and gives some insight into the impact of the illicit alcohol market on the criminal justice system.
Fiorella H. LaGuardia was a prominent New York City politician who served as mayor as well as in the House of Representatives. An outspoken critic of prohibition, he testified to the policy's failure.
The 1926 statement to Congress by the Federal Council of Churches appeals to Americans to respect the law and gives a brief litany of the destructive effects of alcohol.
This 1926 cartoon illustrates the pervasiveness of governmental corruption and widespread disobedience of the Volstead Act.
In this photo, Detroit police discover a clandestine still.

Questions to consider:
1. List some arguments for and against Prohibition. Which side of the debate is most legitimate to you and why?
2. Compare and contrast Prohibition to today's War on Drugs.
     Statistics on Prohibition.rtf  
     Fiorella Laguardia on Prohibition 1926.rtf  
     Federal Council of Churches on Prohibition 1926.rtf  
     The National Gesture.jpg
     Detroit Police Discover Still.jpg
Fiorella LaGuardia on Probibition:
Federal Council of Churches on Prohibition:">
Volstead Act cartoon:
Photo of police with an illegal still:
The 21st Amendment Repeals ProhibitionTop
By the mid-twenties, it became apparent that Prohibition was unenforceable due to a lack of popular and local governmental support. Though the limited availability of alcohol had positive health effects, many deaths occurred as a result of tainted, amateur-made liquor, political corruption increased, and smuggling-related crime became lucrative. Furthermore, the economic desperation of the Depression made the potential employment and tax revenue from the legalization of liquor increasingly attractive to struggling Americans. Thus, in 1933, the noble experiment of Prohibition came to a close with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.

This short newsreel (1:17 minutes) with buoyant narration portrays the demise of Prohibition in a very positive light, indicating that lifting the restriction will boost the economy. In a short video clip (0:45 minutes), Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate from a major party, delivers a statement about his satisfaction with the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

Questions to consider:
1. List a few ways that the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment could boost the economy. Consider the repeal's effect on employment in several industries, transportation, manufacturing, retail, etc.
2. Why does Al Smith advance the argument that Prohibition is not compatible with the Constitution. Do you agree or disagree?

     Industry  Download Quicktime®
     Al Smith on the Repeal of  Download Quicktime®
The short newsreel on the industrial boom was found at
The Al Smith video clip was found at
Prohibition Lesson PlansTop
Detailed lesson plans that incorporate much of the information within the Teaching Module.
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     The Road to Prohibiton and Repeal Lesson Plan.rtf  
     Temperance Alphabet Lesson Plan.rtf  
Prohibition Power PointTop
Power Point presentation using sources and material from module.
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