Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

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


It 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 organisations. The all-male Washingtonians, or the predominantly female WCTU were the most influential. These organisations had mostly been social groups, organised around one or more social issues but some, like the Prohibition Party, 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 toward which all resources were focused: the war against alcohol. Second, it was apolitical. This allowed it to support one or the other political party base on their position regarding Prohibition and nothing else. The party’s affiliation or their position on other issues were irrelevant to the League. Third, it was independently funded and it operated its own publishing house, which allowed it to pursue its own goal without any external 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, yet his drive led the League’s action for over two decades.
Having witnessed the evils of drunkenness in his own family at an early age, he profoundly despised alcohol and what it did to men. This personal disgust made his social action nearly obsessive in pursuing national Prohibition. He was clearly a born politician, although he never entered the political arena. 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. Wayne Wheeler achieved it in 1919.
Prohibition would be law in the United States for thirteen years.


Alcohol. Problems and Solutions – Anti-Saloon League: Promoted Prohibition Aggressively
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 one which brought about what all other movements could not


  • Mee Magnum
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 01:16

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 06:06

      I Mee. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      I’m happy you liked the article and you bet I’ll check your post 😉

  • Barbara Hollyfield
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 04:10

    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
    I am Ensign B ~ One of Tremp’s Troops with the
    A to Z Challenge

  • Post Author
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 06:08

    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.

  • Tasha
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 08:42

    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.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:03

      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.

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 12:01

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

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – The crazy thing about Hungarians…

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:07

      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.

  • Sharon Arthur Moore
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 13:48

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:08

      Hey, you sound like my ideal reader 😉
      I hope you’ll enjoy my blog.

  • Mel
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 15:24

    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!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:11

      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.

  • Anabel
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 17:01

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:18

      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 😉

  • Leetah Begallie
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 17:04

    Excellent post! I feel like I am going to learn a lot this month 🙂

  • Lupachi1927
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 17:42

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:22

      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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2015 at 06:34

      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

  • Sabina
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 17:44

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:23

      Happy you enjoy it. It’s a nice sensation sharing what I’ve been studying for years. I’m happy you find it intersting 🙂

  • L. Moon
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 19:51

    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

    • Post Author
      Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:29

      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’ 😉

  • Sharon Marie Himsl
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:04

    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.

  • Post Author
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 20:36

    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.

  • Sylvia
    Posted April 1, 2015 at 21:49

    Great way to start this challenge!

  • Celine Jeanjean
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 00:47

    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 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2015 at 05:59

      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.

      • Roland Clarke
        Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:40

        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.

        • Post Author
          Posted April 4, 2015 at 12:45

          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 😉

  • Sue Archer
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 01:30

    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!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2015 at 06:01

      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.

  • Lillian Csernica
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 01:31

    I’m an adult child of an alcoholic, so I can sympathize with Mr. Wheeler’s motivation. Great post!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2015 at 06:06

      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.

  • Sanch @ Living my Imperfect Life
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 04:02

    I didn’t know any of this…very informative Jazz!

  • Lanise Brown
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 05:57

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 2, 2015 at 06:17

      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 😉

  • Alex Hurst
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 09:18

    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!

  • Post Author
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 20:48

    I don’t drink either. Nor do my two main characters in the trilogy set during Prohibition. It’s kind of fun 😉

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 3, 2015 at 01:53

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 3, 2015 at 05:39

      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.

  • Mars
    Posted April 3, 2015 at 15:46

    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.

    Curling Stones for Lego People

    • Post Author
      Posted April 3, 2015 at 16:54

      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 😉

Leave a comment

Captcha loading...