Politics, Pressure, and Prohibition
RATIFIED by a majority of state legislatures by January, 1919 and enforced by the Volstead Act passed by Congress in October, 1919, the 18th Amendment banning the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages—Prohibition—took effect on January 17, 1920.
PROHIBITION was the result of agitation, activism, public outcry, demonstrations, and persistence by organizations that had coalesced into a political movement several decades before 1920. Women played an especially prominent role in the movement. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement proved effective in the state-by-state ratification process, chiefly because the WCTU was organized into state chapters that had been established decades before state legislatures began debating anti-alcohol legislation in earnest. There were also individual women who acquired national reputations for their anti-alcohol efforts. Carrie Nation (1846-1911) organized groups of hatchet-wielding women who entered saloons to smash liquor bottles and hack furniture to pieces. And Julia Colman (1828-1909) came to be known as “Aunt Julia” by writing over two dozen popular works of fiction and non-fiction with strong anti-alcohol views.
THE Prohibition movement succeeded because of the tireless efforts of its supporters. But it was also an instance of a broader spirit of reform circulating in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. The push for women’s rights and suffrage, for labor unions and an end to child labor, for modernization in public education, for breaking up monopolies, for monitoring the quality of food and drugs--these were aspects of a reform movement that sought to fix problems with practicable solutions, to better align America with the enlightened ideals of its founders. Among its proponents, Prohibition might seem a straightforward response to an array of social problems: public drunkenness, domestic violence by alcoholics, diseases and illnesses caused by excessive drinking. And the solution could seem very simple: the problems would vanish when the alcohol disappeared.