A is for Anti-Saloon League (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

ROARING TWENTIES - Anti-Saloon League - The Anti-Saloon Leage was only the last of the long string of temperance movements that flourished throughout the history of the US, and it was the most powerful, the onw which brought about what all other movements could not

AIt may as well be true that Prohibition might have never come about if the Anti-Saloon League hadn’t existed, and the League might have never been powerful enough without the dedication and drive of his unquestioned leader, Wayne Wheeler.

Throughout the history of the US, there have been many temperance movements and organizations, like the all-male Washingtonians, or the predominantly female WCTU. These organisations had mostly been social groups, organised around one or more social issues or, like the Prohibition Party, they were politically involved.
When the Anti-Saloon League was founded in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1893, it was soon clear this was a different organisation. First of all, the League had just one, very clear goal: the war against alcohol, toward which all resources were focused. Second, it was apolitical, which allow it to support one or the other political party base on their position regarding Prohibition and nothing else, completely disregarding the party’s affiliation or their position on other issues. Third, it was independently funded and it operated its own publishing house, which  allowed it to pursue its own goal without any outer interference.

Wayne Wheeler

Wayne Wheeler

The action of the anti-Saloon League was never more ruthless – and efficient – than under Wayne Wheeler’s leadership. Wheeler was never president of the League, still his drive lead the League’s action for over two decades.
Having withnessed the evils of drunkeness in his own family at an early age, he profoundly despised alcohol and what it did to men, which made his action nearly obsessive in pursuing national Prohibition. He was clearly a born politician, although he never entered the political arena. Still his knee sense of politics and use of power turned him into one of the more powerful men in America in the first decades of the 1900s. He manipulated men and politics with unsurpassed ability.
He was already a pre-eminent figure when the final goal of the League was set at its 20th Anniversary in Columbus, Ohio, in 1913: national prohibition of alcohol through a constitutional amendment, which was exactly what Wayne Wheeler achieved in 1919.
Prohibition would be law in the United State for thirteen years.



Alcohol. Problems and Solutions – Anti-Saloon League
Alcohol. Problems and Solutions – Wayne Wheeler
Westerville Public Library – Anti-Saloon League
Interneet Archive – History of the Anti-Saloon League by Ernest Hurst Cherrington, The American Issues Publishing Compani, Westerville, Ohia, 1913 (PDF)

Kobler, John, Ardent Spirits. The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Da Capo Press, New York, 1973



ROARING TWENTIES AtoZ - Anti-Saloon League - The Anti-Saloon Leage was only the last of the long string of temperance movements that flourished throughout the history of the US, and it was the most powerful, the onw which brought about what all other movements could not

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About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

45 Comments on "A is for Anti-Saloon League (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)"

  1. Great article! Yours was the first I received from all the #AtoZChallenge blogs I subscribed to! Congratulations!!

    My first article will be published in a few hours. I hope you’ll check out my blog.
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  2. When I see the effects of alcoholism on lives and even the sudden life changing tragedy that an episode of drunkenness can cause, a part of me wishes prohibition had succeeded in really stopping the use of drink. But the bottom line is one cannot legislate morality. Morality comes from the heart, mind and soul that is involved with a Higher Power.
    Life & Faith in Caneyhead
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  3. I agree.
    Besides, we’ve seen what happened when people tried to legislate morality: mostly the effect was the contrary to what they hoped for. History is a harsh teacher.

  4. I never knew about Anti-Saloon League. I can understand the need to regulate alcohol, but when you ban something you just make it that much more attractive to people when they have been able to freely buy it before. Usually plays into the hands of criminals as well.
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    • That’s exactly what happened. People didn’t stop to drink, and criminals profited from it.
      I think that imposing a position, even if the intentions are good, is rarely a good idea.

  5. Dammit Ohio… XD
    Interesting! I love it how the life of a single person can influence much bigger events…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
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    • When that person’s believes are strong, it may happen 🙂
      I don’t share Wheeler’s vision or means to achieve it, but I can’t deny (and kind of admire) his determination.

  6. Very interesting, Sarah. I didn’t know about the Anti-Saloon League. I love all the history stuff, so I’ll be back to check your posts throughout the month and beyond. I also love ghost stories, so we share that, too.

  7. It was quite a refresher to revisit the Anti-Saloon League. I remember studying it for history as a teen (for some strange reason, we studied modern American history…in Singapore). And nowadays there are a lot of new bars popping out here claiming to have a “speakeasy vibe” which I find annoying heh!
    Mel recently posted…A is for ArchivesMy Profile

    • I think speakeasy-like bars are quite fashionable everywere. They are kind of glamourus 😉

      When I was in school, we didn’t study American history so much in death that I encountered the Anti-Saloon League, so it was a discovery for me.Well, basically all of Prohibition was a discovery, maybe that’s part of my fascination for it.

  8. Fascinating post. We never had prohibition, but the temperance movement was also big here at the same time. I’m a Women’s History Tour Guide in Glasgow and it comes up in that – in fact, one of the campaigns included a visit from the American Bar-Room Smasher, Carrie Nation, in about 1910. Not sure if she was a member of the WCTU you mention or if she was a one woman force! I have a temperance medal myself from my 1960s Methodist upbringing though it didn’t put me off drink – in a moderate way, I hasten to add.
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    • I’m relying on just my memory. She was part of the WCTU at the beginning, but if I remember, when she started smashing people’s properties, the organization distanced itself from her.
      Nation was really a very peculiar character. I didn’t know she travelled to Europe.

      There was never any kind of alcohol prohibition here in Italy. Go figure 😉

  9. Excellent post! I feel like I am going to learn a lot this month 🙂
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  10. Hey there! What a great—and appropriate–start to your challenge. Wayne Wheeler was a pretty impressive guy, and it’s interesting how quickly his movement gained momentum throughout the nation. I was surprised he was a child of alcoholics, too–I didn’t remember reading that myself. His zeal makes a lot more sense now. Would you mind if I linked to your challenge on my blog, by the way? I think people would enjoy it.

    • Hi there 🙂
      I sure don’t mind if you link you blog to my challenge. I’d be honored, actually 🙂

      Wheeler was really an impressive person. He was also the right guy at the right time, I think. Prohibition came into existance for a series of different circumstances, but Wheeler might as well have been one fo those.

    • Hey there 🙂
      I though it was unlikely you never heard about Wheeler’s father, so I double checked it. It wasn’t his father who was an alcoholic, but his uncle. Sorry for the misinformation (makes a note to double check everything again…).

      Here’s the passage:

      Born in Brookfield, Ohio, to a cattle dealer, the third of four children and the only son, he observed at an early age the perils of intoxication. An uncle who lived a mile from the Wheeler farm used periodically to topple senseless off his wagon after a night in the village saloons, and the whole family, assisted by their neighborhoods, would have to search the countryside for him. “I never could understand why the saloons were allowed to make him drunk,” the nephew said.
      – Kobler, John, Ardent Spirits. The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Da Capo Press, New York, 1973

  11. Very interesting–I sorta knew about Prohibition, but not a TON–and this is a great start to your A-Z! Can’t wait to read more.
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  12. I recently heard about another angle of prohibition – the way for politicians to make money. Sad alcohol does take a real toll on some people’s lives.
    Happy A to Z ing
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    • That’s true, alcohol sometimes take a toll on people’s life. I know something about it. But as Prohibition has demonstrated, legislating people’s personal behaviour and limiting freewill in terms of pesonal choises is rarely the right thing to do.

      Prohibition was a source of money for lots of people, it was kind of a corrupting power in itself. There’s a lot to ponder about the ‘noble experiment’ 😉

  13. An interesting era. I think the intentions were good (everyone hates alcoholism), but it just didn’t work, because you can’t regulate people that tightly. Just because one’s neighbor was a drunk, didn’t mean that everyone drinking alcohol would become one too.
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  14. Well, as I mentioned in a later posts, I’m not totally sure Prohibition was entirely about alcohol. It was a very complex time and a very complex situation. I think alcohol was just a catalyst.

  15. Great way to start this challenge!

  16. Prohibition is such an interesting time – they had good intentions, at the end of the day alcohol can have such devastating effects but over-controlling people like that can never work. If anything, it can make people even more obsessed with it. An interesting flip side to that are countries (like a lot of place in Europe) where people are introduced to wine at a young age, without it being a big deal. Often those people have a more healthy attitude to alcohol.

    That said, I have to admit I love the speakeasy kind of bars that are popping up everywhere. I love their glamour 🙂
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    • Well, I don’t think the age you come into contact with alcohol is very important, I think it’s the way you do it.

      Here in Italy, alcohol, especially wine, is considered a way to come together. You drink while socializing, so, when done in an healthy way, it’s only a part of a wider activity.
      That’s why, when you try to fully prohibite it, you may end up doing more damage than good. At that point, drinking isn’t just a part of a wider activity, but it becomes the main course, so to say, because that’s the risky, ‘cool’ part.
      This is what happened during Prohibition, I think.

      • Catching up on A to Z – sorry Sarah. Anyway, some of my ancestors were Quakers and their take on alcohol abuse was interesting. London had an appalling gin drinking problems but it was cheap, and there was no alternative. Solution: set up a brewery (Trumans, Hanbury, & Buxton) producing good, nutritious beer – a more sociable drink that you drink more slowly. Note that this was before high-alcohol easily gulped lager. Sadly problem is still with us, but now the drinks manufacturers ignore alcohol content for profit.

        • Hi Roland, how nice see you here 🙂

          Well, that’s an interesting take on the problem for sure… though in a way, it does make sense.
          It all comes down to culture and social behaviour, don’t you think? If you drink for the company and you prefer good quality stuff, you’ll want to savour it more than gulp it down.
          Though of course, there are a lot more issues with alcohol and the problems it causes. But in terms of what Prohibition tried to achieve through legislation, I think your ancestors’ take might even have been more effective 😉

  17. Sounds like Wheeler was a very impressive man, even if his actions didn’t work out the way he planned. You have to admire his persistence!
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    • I do. I don’t share his goal or the means he used to get there (because he lobbied really in questionable ways), but I do kind of admire his persistance and focus.

  18. I’m an adult child of an alcoholic, so I can sympathize with Mr. Wheeler’s motivation. Great post!
    Lillian Csernica recently posted…A for AtorMy Profile

    • I can certainly understand him. But you know, I think Prohibition was about alcohol only for a small part. What brough about Prohibition was a very complex mix of different issues, most of which had nothing to do with alcohol. This may be the reason why it was ill born and ill dead.

      I had an experience of alcoholism in my family too, and honestly I don’t think a regime like Prohibition would have done any difference. Certainly not in a good way.

  19. I didn’t know any of this…very informative Jazz!
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  20. Wow, Wheeler certainly had a strong influence during the time. It was amazing the lengths people went to to skirt around prohibition too. Awesome post, Sarah! I look forward to your next.
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    • Hey, thanks, I’m happy you liked it 🙂

      There were a lot of people who went a long way to fight alcohol, like for example, Carry Nation, who was mentioned above or Francis Willard, the legendary chief of the WCTU. There were also people who strongly supporte it for different reasons, like the Deputy Attorny General Mabel Willebrandt or even John Rockfeller and Henry Ford. The Ku Klux Klan also strongly supported Prohibition.

      It’s a very complex piece of history… like all pieces of history, after all 😉

  21. I never knew that Prohibition lasted THAT long! I don’t drink… I also don’t like what it does to some people, but that’s a far way to go. Thanks for the history!
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  22. I don’t drink either. Nor do my two main characters in the trilogy set during Prohibition. It’s kind of fun 😉

  23. Attempting to legislate one’s own version of morality always backfires. I wonder if the people who pushed for Prohibition ever regretted it, knowing it just created even more problems with drinking and alcohol.
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    • Well, some, like for example Henry Ford and Pauline Sabin, who at first supported Prohibition (Ford gave lots of money to the cause, too), then supported Repeal. So, yes, I think at least a few regretted it.

  24. Interesting, again being aware of something but not really knowing how it started or why…

    I always find the attitude towards alcohol in the UK (legal) and street drugs (illegal) interesting in how much of the population look only at the legality and not the harm element of misuse of any substance and seem to totally disregard scientific facts. (I’m a former mental health support worker so whether it be the effects of caffeine on anxiety, alcohol on depression or prescription drug side effects I found the attitude people had to these substances interesting based on whether they were everyday/legal/illegal)

    I often wonder what it would have been like for people who wanted a drink but didn’t abuse it to live in the times where it was illegal… it’s a topic my father and I try to avoid as we can never agree on this.

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    • Hi Mars and thanks for stopping by.

      Well, this is an interesting topic. It appears (at least regarding Prohibition) that prohibiting alcohol had a lot of undesirable side effects. The criminality, sure, but also the fact that people that previously weren’t interested in alcohol, then became so as a result of the prohibition. Young people especially saw it as a challange, so in the Twenties it wasn’t just going out and having a drink for the thrill of it. You went out to get drunk. I read that getting drunk was so important to gain a status inside your group of friends that some youths pretended to be drunk even when they weren’t.

      Personally, I think it isn’t the substance in itself, but the use you do of it. And we all know that prohibiting something rarely has the effect to stop a practice. And I won’t even enter the question of lagislating morality 😉

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