Temperance to Prohibition

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From 1920 to 1933, the United States was officially a “dry” nation. The 18th Amendment made the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol illegal. But the first steps toward ridding the U.S. of alcohol began in the century before, with the Temperance Movement.

Today, we look at the temperance debate, as seen in a variety of materials in several collections in Acumen.

The Wade Hall sheet music collection features several songs that highlight our country’s mixed feelings about the idea of prohibition. Take, for example, this 1912 song which admonishes its audience to “vote the old state dry, boys”:

Sheet music, pro-prohibition, 1912This item, from the Manly Family papers, gives an overview of the “misjudged” and “misunderstood” Prohibition Party, circa the turn of the century.

Prohibition Party pamphelet, circa 1900From the same collection, we reach back into the 19th century, to 1878. Here are handwritten notes (probably for a sermon or other speech) by Charles Manly, a Baptist minister. (Click the image to look at a larger version in Acumen.)

Manly sermon notes, Intemperance, 1870sFrom roughly the same period, this newspaper article from the Woodward Family papers talks of the Temperance Movement in West Virginia.

Women often had a strong voice in the Temperance Movement, even at a time when their voices were otherwise not always heard. For example, Katie McLauchlin wrote a paper in 1881 that begins, “Intemperance is one of the greatest evils of our Country”:

McLauchlin temperance paper, 1881Another writer we know only as Carrie, but she details the work of the women’s temperance movement in Ohio in an 1874 letter to a friend.

In 1896, “I can drink or let it alone” was published, a song which seems to be okay with drinking, but look closely at the lyrics on this page:


In 1919, in the months before the vote on the 18th Amendment, another song wondered what life would be like without alcohol:

sheet music, anti-prohibition, 1919
Ev’rybody seems to talk of prohibition,
And what they’ll drink when everything is dry,
How’re you goin’ to get around this new condition,
And keep a happy twinkle in your eye?
It’s very easy now to get a drink,
But tell me did you ever stop and think?

How are you goin’ to wet your whistle,
When the whole darn world goes dry?
What are you goin’ to do in the morning,
When you need a nip to open up your eye?
Now what of the wedding and the christening,
And the wake when your dear friends die,
Oh, How are you goin’ to wet your whistle,
When the whole darn world goes dry?

After Prohibition passed in 1920, this last song wondered if it would spell the end for music and fun:

sheet music, don't take away those blues, 1920I must admit I’m a JazzboFor every place that I go,
They play that Jazz razz-a-ma-tazz
That seems to drive my troubles away
But now that we have prohibition,
I’ve got a creepy superstition
Now that it’s dry they’re goin’ to try
To take away those Blues someday
But the song ends

You can take away my gin, take away my booze,
Take away my hat and even take away my shoes,
But Lawdy, Lawdy Mister man, don’t take away those blues.

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