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Prohibition and Women's Suffrage

Rohit Naimpally

Pol Sci, Econ and Cricket geek who loves a good pint

Apologies for the inexcusably long gap in posting everyone- I was in the process of moving and things have been in a state of limbo recently.

I just wanted to post a quick link to a fascinating podcast that Russ Roberts (host of EconTalk) did with Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Okrent's book makes for a great read and the podcast is fascinating as well, summarizing much of what is in the book. I expect that we will be posting a more in-depth review of the book at some point, but its worth highlighting one aspect of Okrent's story: the relationship between the pro and anti-prohibition camps to the women's suffrage movement.

It isn't too hard to see why women would have been mildly pro-prohibition in the late-19th, early-20th century. Most drinking was conducted in predominantly-male saloons back then, with the working man choosing to end a hard day's labor with a few pints. As Okrent documents, the saloon would thus become a fecund place for the spread of political ideas, adding electoral incentives aplenty to the debate over Prohibition. But that is a story for another post: in addition to being watering holes, saloons also maintained a few beds for men to cavort with prostitutes. As if the infidelity was not bad enough, the men would then bring STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases, not subscriber trunk dialing, to the Indians amongst you) back home to their wives...all this at a time when women had very few legal rights to speak of.

With women increasingly becoming opposed to the drinking ways of men (and the men that drank, drank plenty- 90 fifths of 80 proof liquor every year per capita...and thats before we account for all the people that did not drink), the big brewers realized that women's suffrage could pose a serious threat to them: having been granted the power to vote, women would significantly buttress the ranks of the anti-prohibition movement. From the link above:
As a result, the brewers, the most powerful forces on the anti-Prohibition side, vowed in the resolution passed in 1871 by the U.S. Brewers' Association, to opposed women's suffrage anywhere and everywhere because they saw the vote for women would be their downfall. The more they opposed women's suffrage, the more it did turn women against them.
The brewers would resort to dirty tactics, fabricating stories and paying off editors; all that was missing in the slew of false journalism was a blackboard and crocodile tears really. With the brewers resorting to every means of manipulation possible, and their opposition to extending the right to vote to women, prohibition became an even more popular idea, particularly amongst women. It is no coincidence that Prohibition and universal suffrage were both enacted in 1920 (the latter being formally ratified).

I recommend listening to the podcast, or reading the rough transcript, even if you don't have the time to go through Okrent's book- it chronicles a fascinating period in the history of beer. We'll have more on Prohibition in the near future, so watch this space.



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