December 6, 2017

The Women Who Repealed Prohibition

What role did women play in ending the era of prohibition?

The Temperance Movement, led by women, believed that the prohibition of alcohol would solve many social ills affecting families in the progressive era. The experiment of prohibition did not work out like the temperance movement had hoped and it wasn’t long until groups of women organized again and proclaimed that in order to protect families from the corruption, violent crime, and underground drinking that resulted from prohibition the 18th amendment should be repealed.

Notable women’s organizations in favor of repeal included the Women’s Moderation Union, Molly Pitcher’s Club, and the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. The organizations mobilized women and gave visibility to women who were opposed to the 18th amendment.

Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform

The WONPR was founded in 1929 by former prohibition supporter Pauline Sabin. Sabin came to the conclusion that the social experiment of prohibition had failed and that it was actually counterproductive solving the problems the Temperance movement was concerned about. Her group challenged the idea that all women in the United States supported the 18th amendment. Temperance was long seen as a women’s issue, playing a central role in the women’s movement. When women got the right to vote in 1920 it was assumed they would vote together as a block on political issues, sabin’s split with the pro-prohibition movement proved that women could be independent thinkers and they wouldn’t always be on the same side of the issues.

The WONPR grew to be one of the largest anti-prohibition organization in the country and was several times larger than the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  Sabins become a key public figure in the fight to repeal prohibition and on July 18, 1932, Sabin was featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

In a speech to the House Judiciary Committee she argued for repeal “”In pre-prohibition days, mothers had little fear in regard to the saloon as far as their children were concerned. A saloon-keeper’s license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors. Today in any speakeasy in the United States you can find boys and girls in their teens drinking liquor, and this situation has become so acute that the mothers of the country feel something must be done to protect their children.”

Molly Pitcher Club

The Molly Pitcher Club was named after Revolutionary folk heroine Molly Pitcher who was known for carrying water to men on the battlefield. The club was an all women’s group founded in 1922 by the secretary to Tammany Hall leader Thomas Foley, M. Louise Gross. Their mission of the members, called Molly Pitchers, was to prevent “any tendency on the part of our National Government to interfere with the personal habits of the American people except those habits which may be designated as criminal”.

They argued that prohibition took away personal liberty and that in order to limit the problems of saloons the government should have strict control over the sale of alcohol, but not ban the substances altogether.

Women’s Moderation Union

Another organization headed by M. Louise Gross. Like other women’s anti-prohibition groups it helped shine a light on the fact that not all women in the United States favored prohibition.

Gross believed in enhancing women’s political voice and wanted politicians in Washinton to realize how many women were opposed to prohibition. The group promoted personal liberty and accountability and that the government should not interfere with the private lives of American citizens.

Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution on December 5th, 1933. The experiment of alcohol prohibition only lasted 13 years.


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