By Larry Malone
Part 2 of a 2-part series
Part 1 described the events and movements that led to national Prohibition by the 18thAmendment to the Constitution. Part 2 explains why Prohibition was repealed, including the impact of women’s suffrage, and describes alcohol’s current status in Loudoun.
The End of Prohibition
The types of corruption and violence that accompanied Prohibition in Loudoun and surrounding counties was seen all across the country, and magnified many times over in the cities.
Why was the 18th Amendment repealed? To say that it did not work is a necessary, but not sufficient, answer. Over the years, as the violence grew, many organizations were formed to try to end Prohibition.
One of the most powerful was the Woman’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), founded by Pauline Sabine in 1929 in Chicago. Mrs. Sabine was a wealthy, socially prominent, politically well-connected heir to the Morton Salt Company fortune. She had been an early supporter of Prohibition. “I felt I should approve of it because it would help my two sons. The word-pictures of the agitators carried me away. I thought a world without liquor would be a beautiful world,” she said.
However, with time and experience, she grew to oppose Prohibition aggressively, focusing on four issues: hypocrisy of politicians, ineffectiveness of the law, decline of temperate drinking and the growing prestige of bootleggers. Her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee well summarizes her concerns and those of increasing numbers of mothers in the country:
“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 A saloon keeper’s license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors.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 said.
In other testimony, she pointed out that the Prohibition movement hoped to eliminate the liquor industry, but actually did the opposite: “What did we think would happen? Of course! Without regulations and without taxes the industry would become more profitable and grow.”
In its first two years, the WONPR grew to 1.5 million members—triple that of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
WONPR was only one of many national and local organizations actively opposing Prohibition. Other organizations included the Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement, the Women’s Committee for Repeal of the 18th Amendment, the Women’s Moderation Union, and the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. The opposition of women’s groups was a highly significant factor in providing the moral and practical justifications for women, particularly mothers, to support repeal.
Ironically and unintentionally, Prohibition ushered in a new era of political power for women in the United States. The 18th Amendment was ratified in January 1919. The 19th Amendment—the right of women to vote—was ratified 20 months later in August 1920. That close sequence was not coincidental.
Women’s suffrage was championed by at least two disparate types of people and organizations. Some simply wanted to accord women a fundamental participatory right in a democracy. The others, including outlaw groups like the KKK, looked back at women’s successful support of Prohibition, assumed women’s voting prowess would assure Prohibition never would be repealed, and backed the 19th Amendment solely on that assumption. They grossly miscalculated. Instead of that assurance, the 19th Amendment empowered women to exercise their moral authority and political courage to urge repeal of the 18th.
Although the “Prohibition forever” advocates contributed votes for the 19th Amendment, it would be an inaccurate oversimplification to suggest it was adopted as a cynical strategy to strengthen Prohibition’s longevity. Women— and men—had been campaigning for the right of women to be equal partners in the U.S. democracy for generations. Abigail Adams warned in 1776 that “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
In 19th century Loudoun, several prominent supporters of women’s rights had speaking engagements in the county. In November 1842, Lucretia Mott, and her husband James, visited Goose Creek Meeting in Lincoln, where she spoke to a large audience of Quakers. After the Civil War, Mott founded, and was elected the first president of, the American Equal Rights Association, an organization that advocated universal suffrage. On March 5, 1895, Susan B. Anthony came to Goose Creek Meeting, and delivered a speech advocating women’s suffrage.
Significantly, many women suffered terribly and even died pursuing the outwardly simple goal of equal voting rights. The treatment of 72 suffragists imprisoned in 1917 at the Occoquan Workhouse for picketing the White House was so horrific as to convince President Woodrow Wilson to publicly support the right of women to vote.
The 18th and 19th century oratory, the formation of equal rights organizations, the brutal treatment of suffragettes at nearby Occoquan, and the endorsement of President Wilson (a Virginian), all had national impact, but there was not enthusiastic organized support in Loudoun for women’s voting rights as a stand-alone cause. Certainly, many women and men in the county favored universal suffrage, but in the early 20th century, the religious fervor attending the multi-day rallies, events and parades promoting Prohibition was not seen in Loudoun in support of the proposal that became the 19th Amendment.
Virginia Ratifies the 21st Amendment
By 1933, Virginians had grown weary of the evils of Prohibition. The benefits promised, such as an end to crime and poverty, did not materialize. Indeed, the national Depression and the growth of organized criminal gangs seemed to make a mockery of such promises.
Virginia Governor John G. Pollard, despite personal support for Prohibition, was convinced by Senator Harry Byrd that the public mood favoring repeal was sufficiently strong to call the Virginia General Assembly into special session on Aug. 17, 1933. At that session, the General Assembly: legalized the sale of 3.2% alcoholic beverages; called for a special election to decide whether to continue state Prohibition if national Prohibition was repealed, or, adopt a “plan of liquor control;” and created a committee to draft legislation if Virginians voted to end Prohibition in the state.
The special election was held Oct. 3, 1933. Virginians voted 99,640 to 58,518—a margin of almost 2 to 1—in favor of ending state prohibition. On Oct. 25, 1933, delegates at a special convention unanimously ratified the 21st Amendment. Virginia was the 29th state to do so.
On Dec. 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th State to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus repealing nationwide Prohibition.
Loudoun County is home to 44 of Virginia’s 280 wineries, the most of any county. Loudoun has 738 acres of vineyards producing 19% of Virginia’s wine grapes. Annual wine production in Loudoun is valued at $36 million.
With 35 breweries, Loudoun is one of the most vibrant craft beer destinations in the U.S.
The Catoctin Creek distillery, located in Purcellville, was founded by Becky and Scott Harris in 2009 as the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since before Prohibition. Undoubtedly, the award-winning rye whiskey produced today by Catoctin Creek is a far cry from the more primitive product of John Mercer’s Aldie distillery. Flying Ace Farm, established near Taylorstown in 2021 by Hadi Akkadin, is Loudoun’s first distillery/brewery. In 2021, one of its bourbons won double gold in national competition. And StoneHouse Meadery, where honey is fermented into an alcoholic beverage, recently opened in Purcellville.
Of course, the problems of excess alcohol consumption that drove the prohibition movement a century ago have not disappeared. Today, however, in the U.S., in Virginia and here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, the causes of alcoholism are better understood, and the options for treatment and control are much more widely available.
And women in the U.S., in Virginia, and Loudoun County are exercising their 19th Amendment rights with greater impact than ever before.
Larry Malone is executive director of Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and vice chairman of the Loudoun County Rural Development Council. In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. For more information about the organization, go to loudouncoalition.org.