Sunday 22 May 2016


"When the mayor of Berlin, Gustav Boess, visited New York City in the fall of 1929, one of the questions he had for his host Mayor James J. Walker, was when Prohibition was to go into effect.  The problem was that Prohibition had already been the law of the United States for nearly a decade.  That Boess had to ask tells you plenty about how well it was working." (Michael Lerner)

The Alcoholic Republic talks about the great alcoholic binge that took place in America from 1790 to 1830.   Wives were worried about their husbands drinking away their pay cheques, about them coming home and taking out their frustrations on them and their children, about the possibility of living on the streets ( The Temperance Movement, a direct response to this problem, peaked in 1850 with 238,000 women (


In time, the Temperance Movement's strategy changed from one of moral to legal reform.  The Prohibition Party debuted in 1869.  The Women's Christian Temperance Union emerged in 1874.  Their strategy focussed more and more on empowering women.  One way to do this was by securing the vote for women.  The W.C.T.U. joined forces with the suffragettes to make this happen.  
It is no surprise then that right on the tails of the women's right to vote (1919) came Prohibition (1920).  

Reformers were hoping that Prohibition would not only curb drinking, but also improve the quality of life in American towns and cities.  Merchants expected sales of clothing and household goods to rise. Real estate agents expected house prices to rise with the closing of saloons and the improvement of neighbourhoods.  Soft drink companies expected their profits to skyrocket.  Theatre producers expected bigger crowds as Americans looked for new outlets for entertainment.  According to historian Michael Lerner, however, this did not happen.  

Instead, the closing of breweries and saloons led to the loss of thousands of jobs.  Restaurants closed because they could no longer make a profit without a liquor licence.  Theatre revenues also declined.  On the other hand, Prohibition did lead to the rise of bootlegging, speakeasies and organized crime.  Corrupt police officers succumbed to bribes.  The number of "pharmacists" in New York tripled since a pharmacist could prescribe alcohol for many an ailment.  Enrollment at churches increased as well as the number of "self-professed" ministers who could obtain liquor through legal means.


By 1933, the 19th Amendment was repealed.  Many Americans agreed that the experiment had failed, even though Prohibitionists intentions were well-founded.

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