Prohibition

Using the anniversary of the Volstead Act as an excuse, Garrison Keillor made several interesting points on his Writer's Almanac last evening about Prohibition:

--Although Prohibition didn't work as well in urban areas, in rural areas commitments to insane asylums for alcoholism went down 50%.

--Women were the force behind the imposition of Prohibition. They didn't have the avenues to earn a living for themselves that they do today, divorce was much more difficult, and many of them simply became impoverished due to their husband's drinking.

--As a result, the liquor industry was the main opponent to women getting the vote. The liquor interests feared Prohibition. Sure enough, as soon as women got the vote, we got Prohibition.

I would add that drinking on a per-capita basis before Prohibition was probably double what it is today. They have pretty good statistics on drinking because booze has almost always been taxed.

If the per-capita rate of alcohol consumption was double then, it meant the problem was much more than twice as bad as at present--"per-capita" includes women and children. Women didn't have equal access to booze, and there were a lot more children at the time, so the men who drank really had to put it away to make the per-capita consumption as high as it was.

So, I think it is fair to say that Prohibition, far from being a triumph of puritans hoping to impose their purity on everybody, was a response to a national drinking problem which was much worse than any we face today.

My grandparents met at a temperance meeting. We think of temperance meetings today as quaint, moralizing affairs. But the teetotalling of my grandparents was probably a result of the pain caused by the previous generations' intemperance.

I know my great-great-grandfather signed up for two different units in the Civil War--seems he drank up the first bounty he was paid and needed some cash for beer so signed up for another. According to records unearthed by my uncle, somewhere during that binge he got married to a woman who was never heard from again and who is not my great-great-grandmother.

Lincoln had to pardon him for abandoning the first regiment or he would have been shot for desertion.

And my great-grandfather on the other side was a violent drunk who chased people with pitchforks when he got tuned up.

Frankly, if I had to live in a log cabin out here on the prairie through a Minnesota winter I'd probably be distilling my own whiskey as fast as I could drink it.