Happy Repeal Day, Beer-Loving History Nerds!
Today, December 5, marks the 80th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal. Initiated at the federal level by Representative Andrew Volstead (R, MN), Prohibition lasted for an excruciating 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours and 32.5 minutes, from 1919-1933. The repeal of the Volstead Act was marked by raucous parties throughout the country, brewers tapping barrels in the street and more champagne toasts than my slightly hung over brain can compute.
Many historians consider Prohibition to be one of the defining factors of the development of the 20th century in the US. The ban deeply effected all areas of American society, from immigration, politics and religion to culture, women's rights and common cuisine.
In honor of this joyous holiday, I traveled back to the source of the 19th Amendment and put together a list of famous teetotalers so we can all point at them, raise a drunken fist in the air and say IN YOUR FACE , LOSERS! (or in the case of Susan B. Anthony, "I respectfully see why you made those choices and thanks for the rights and all but ease up on the beer hating, ok? Thanks")
Prohibition grew out of the Temperance Movement, an organized political and religious ethos that preached total abstinence from alcohol as way to improve your social standing, health and family. While there were many leaders amongst the Temperance advocates, I find these to be the most interesting of the bunch.
Susan B. Anthony
Some Temperance advocates saw Prohibition as a women's cause. While women had very little power (they couldn't vote and faced serious barriers to owning property, seeking higher education and economic independence), they're primary responsibility was to maintain their families -- not an easy feat when your husband is drinking away the weekly paycheck only to come home drunk and aggressive. Banning alcohol was seen as a means to end rampant domestic and sexual violence against women, and thus Suffragette Susan B. Anthony joined in on the cause. I can't really blame her on that one.
Connecticut Minister Sylvester Graham was a strict observer of Temperance... and he also invented the Graham cracker, every toddler's favorite snack! This total freaking weirdo was so observant that he followed Temperance's most rigid interpretation, including no meat, no coffee, no alcohol of any kind, no spices, no warm showers or hot food, no masturbation and no more than once-a-month reproductive sex. Sounds like a total blast.
This insane individual from a small Kansas town claimed that God Himself instructed her to attack bars and liquor stores with a hatchet. A HATCHET. Also, she called these divine instructions "Hatchetations," which, I have to say, is pretty clever. To show their disdain, bemused saloon owners and patrons alike began to hang banners stating "All Nations Welcome, Except for Carrie." Watch this video for more on this crazy -- you gotta see it to believe it.
Mabel Walker Willebrandt
President Harding named Mabel Walker Willebrandt Assistant Attorney General of the United States in 1921, putting her at the head of Prohibition enforcement. He thought the sallow faced, visibly serious woman would garner the brand new women's vote while also applying her shrewd brain and ironclad will to curtailing illicit alcohol production throughout the land. According to some sources, this tough broad was the most famous American women aside from movie stars. The real kicker? Willebrandt wasn't even a Temperance supporter before her political appointment -- she enjoyed a drank on occasion -- but as soon as she was tapped by the big boys, she gave up drinking and fought to make everyone else give it up, too.
Today, Maine produces some of the country's best craft beer. From Allagash to Maine Beer Co. to Atlantic to tiny Rising Tide, our northern neighbor has long been at the forefront of the beer boom. Bud did you know Maine was actually the first state to ban alcohol on a state level, some 70 years before the Volstead? Yep -- all thanks to this dude, Mr. Neil Dow, nicknamed the "Napoleon of Temperance." As the mayor of Maine's largest city, Portland, he gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to ban the good drink. He also lead raids on bars, liquor stores and breweries. Keep on rolling in that grave, sir.
Yes, the circus man himself was once a prominent leader in the Temperance movement. Ringling Brothers founder P.T. Barnum signed a the "teetotal pledge" after being so moved at a popular anti-alcohol lecture. In his autobiography, he details his indoctrination:
I arose from my bed, and feeling that as a man I could not persist in a practice which I could not conscientiously and logically defend, I took my champagne bottles, knocked off their heads, and poured their contents upon the ground.
Barnum went on to deliver anti-alcohol lectures himself (though some say it was just to get out of debt), put on Temperance plays and even owned a museum where the sole beverage option was ice water. Laaaame.
As an extra treat, check out this podcast from the Leonard Lopate Show. The venerable Dan Okrent is the guest, talking about his incredibly comprehensive book, The Last Call. It's a great read and heartily recommended. (P.S. Dan Okrent is also a baseball expert and one of the founding members of Fantasy Baseball... The guy rules.)