Last week I watched Ken Burns' five-and-a-half-hour three-part documentary on Prohibition, the so-called “Noble Experiment” and one of the country's biggest civic failures.
I like Ken Burns' work, especially his Jazz series, and Prohibition didn't disappoint me. I already knew some of the causes that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment: the force of the Temperance Movement and how its leaders were also pushing for women's rights, how the passing of the income tax amendment made Prohibition fiscally feasible, and the strange alliance of militant suffragettes with white supremacists to ban alcohol use.
But there were some other facts that I was not aware of, like the vilification of German-Americans —which included most of the large brewery owners— when the US entered World War I. And I didn't realize that women, after lobbying so hard for prohibition, became so pivotal in the effort to repeal it.
Pauline Sabin, a wealthy heiress from a Republican family, initially supported prohibition, but as crime increased, her criticism of the 18th Amendment grew slowly. At some point, she realized that “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 A saloon-keeper's license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors.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.”
She founded the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform in 1929. Four years later, the 18th Amendment, was repealed.
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