Type: Research Essays
Sample donated: Margarita Barnes
Last updated: December 23, 2019
InvestigationOn the 22nd of December, 1917, the 18th amendment was passed by U.S congress, to become part of its constitution. Within a year later, the social movement to prohibit the distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages, the temperance movement, nationally dating back to the 18th century, had officially succeeded as the prohibition became U.S law. The expectation of prohibition supporters, otherwise known as “dry advocates”, was that through “halting the ‘liquor traffic,’ many of society’s other ills would also be eliminated”. Thus dry advocates viewed their desire, as their moral obligation, and this is reiterated through prohibition propaganda, which relied heavily on religious language, insinuating that god, and thereby righteousness, was aligned with their cause.
A social group, famously linked with aiding the prohibition movement, were those of the suffragette’s: a movement in its own, to permit all american women, the right to vote. The seeming conflict between the suffragette movement and the liquor distributors, has become a staple of the nation’s past. Yet intriguingly, neither the suffragette movement nor alcohol distributors officially opposed the other; quoting Neil Bonner, President of the National Retail Liquor Dealers Association, in 1881: “The liquor men have taken no official action against suffrage”.
Furthermore, in 1914, women in California, a state in which they were granted the right to vote since 1911, had overwhelmingly rejected the implementation of prohibition into the amendment during a public vote. In San Francisco 46,665 women were registered to vote, yet only 15,087 had voted in favour of local prohibition. Then to what extent did the suffragette movement really impact the temperance movement prior to prohibition?L. Ames Brown attributes this information to the Californian state having been the largest producer of Wine in the union; writing in 1916, that “California women have permitted the moral side of the issues presented to be obscured by their material interest in the outcome”. He also wrote, that while officially neither group had taken a definitive stance against the other, they challenged one another in certain states or in even smaller political divisions. This is proven through the great sums of money, that was spent by liquor lobbyist in order to “defeat suffrage bills and amendments”. Drinking was viewed as a “masculine indulgence” and the motivation of the liquor lobby to deprive women of their vote, was their prejudice that women would vote in favour of prohibition, if given the opportunity. Their actions then led to responses from suffragette members, such as a speech given by a suffragette in Montclair, New Jersery, during a suffragette campaign, in which the liquor lobbyists were publicly demonized for their supposed financing of the state oppositions to the suffragette movement.
This argument forms the concept, that the suffragette support of prohibition was an act of defense against an unprovoked liquor business, which funded their oppositions. Another opinion however, considers the interest of political third-parties, specifically the prohibitionists, in securing the support of the women’s vote, through supporting the suffragette movement. This is made evident from the last annual report of the Superintendent of the Illinois Anti-Saloon League (a prohibition lobbying organization), following the state’s passing of the suffrage bill, allowing statewide voting for women: “The women’s suffrage bill,” “could not have been passed without the almost unanimous support of the men who were elected by the help of the Anti-Saloon league”. He continued with the important addition, that it “has proven to be the most valuable piece of temperance legislation the State has enacted”. This demonstrates the expected support for prohibition, or temperance, from women, after the third-party support of suffrage, and the vital role these third-parties played, in aiding suffrage. The importance of suffrage support of prohibition becomes even more noticeable, when analysing the voting patterns of congressmen which represented suffrage states, and the resulting pattern of similarity which emerges between their support of prohibition and suffrage.
The table below, was published in 1916, in a journal titled The North American Review. It depicts the votes of the 67 congressmen which represented suffragette States on two resolutions. Important to clarify is the Hobson resolution: a 1915 Cambridge Tribune article defines it as a “prohibition resolution”. Apart from the states of California and Illinois, a trend emerges, between most congressmen’s support of the prohibition resolution, given that they are representatives of suffragette states. This strengthens the argument that suffragette support, led to prohibition support. To this exists the argument, that the variable of a population’s moral opinions on alcohol consumption, may have played a more significant role than that of suffrage in their congressmen’s decisions.Table from The North American Review depicting the votes of the 67 congressmen which represented suffragette States on a suffragette and a prohibition oriented resolution( Brown, L.
Ames. “Suffrage and Prohibition.” The North American Review, vol. 203, no. 722, 1916, pp. 93–100.
JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25108710.)This is theory, it is further supported by a 2014 poll, by the Pew research center, in which citizens were asked about the importance of religion in their lives, lists Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona and Kansas as some of the more religious states, having 75% or more of those questioned responding with the answering of either of the two highest denominations of “importance”. While this is a modern list, one could infer that the dispersion of the role of religion in the lives of citizens in those states, holds historical relevance. Yet, the impact of suffrage is in this case still undeniable, as the other States representing suffrage do not meet that modern degree of religious influence on daily life, and yet still demonstrated support for prohibition.
The anomalies of California and Illinois could also be seen as a detriment to the suffrage link to the support of prohibition. California, can be explained through the previous argument of the state’s high production of liquor, which would incentivise the civilians not to vote to eradicate such a large facet of their own income. Interesting to note is that the Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago notes Chicago as having been the “natural choice” for alcohol distilling since it first began its retail liquor trade in 1827, and the city of Peoria then producing even more alcohol than Chicago in the 1890’s. Both of these cities are within the state of Illinois, leading to the theory, that the population may have been similarly incentivized, as California, to protect their income. This theory would then excuse these two States, and further reinforce the concept that suffrage was an important support to prohibition.While the motivations of morality were definitely present within the population, it does not account for the overwhelming nature with which suffrage would herald increased support for prohibition. While California and Illinois did not reflect this, the states can be reasoned to have been so due to their loss of income, which prohibition would bring.
It is infeasible to claim that any of these arguments, of the role of the suffragette movement on that of the prohibition, function as mutually exclusive. It was not just one variable which led to the votes for the Hobson resolution, and the eventual implementation of prohibition into law. However the impact of the suffrage movement, on that of the temperance movement prior to national prohibition, can nevertheless be analyzed to have been of a great extent.