Delanceyplace.com is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.
Today’s selection — from 1920 The Year that Made the Decade Roar by Eric Burns. Prohibition, the legislative act that banned alcohol in the United States, began in 1920. But the groundwork for Prohibition was laid in hundreds of protests and demonstrations over the many decades preceding 1920, and also in the staggeringly high alcohol consumption of Americans dating back to the very foundation of the country. One such protest happened in Hillsboro, Ohio in 1873:
“The groundwork for Prohibition [was] laid forty years before [World War I], with the prim, pious, but ultimately untiring membership of the so-called Women’s Crusade, whose tactic, ingenious in its way, was to pray saloons shut. A cleric from Boston who found himself in the small southeastern Ohio town of Hillsboro as the Crusade was getting started in late December 1873 could not believe what he saw.
“The answer, in the short term, was no. As men approached their favorite saloon and saw the women, among them their wives and daughters, kneeling not only on planked sidewalks but often in the dust that paved the streets, praying for abstinence, they were too embarrassed to enter the beverage emporium. They turned, feeling ashamed of themselves for what they had been about to do. They skulked away, hoping that loved ones had not seen them.
“The result was the ‘Miracle of Hillsboro.’ In two weeks, all twenty-one saloons in town had been prayed out of business. For a while.
The Crusade spread: ‘east to Wheeling, West Virginia; northwest to Ripon, Wisconsin; southwest to Carthage, Missouri; and north to Minnesota.’ The results, however, were not always similar to those in Hillsboro.
“The problem with the Women’s Crusade was that its effects could not last. There were almost always more saloons in a town than there were groups of women to pray before them. The Crusaders might close one establishment with their piety, but the next remained open. When the women moved on to the next, the imbibers simply sneaked out the back door of that joint and returned to the first. Their shame had been brief; their thirst endured. In the long term, especially when viewed from a distance, the Women’s Crusade was little more than a game. Musical saloons. The habitués always won. Nonetheless, a start toward a dry America, futile though it turned out to be, had been made.”
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