Prohibition and social justice

19th century newspaper illustration of the Ladies of Logan, Ohio, members of the Women's Temperance Crusade..
Prohibition wasn't all tommy guns and uptight teetotalers—it was a social justice movement too.

The Gastropod podcast has an episode called "You're Wrong About Prohibition". Eager for distraction from a monotonous pile of dishes, I popped in my earbuds.

Temperance was a progressive movement!?!?

Modern booze marketing promotes a starry-eyed view of Prohibition tropes (see Tommy guns, fedoras, flappers, the speakeasy) that isn't famous for its nuance. As such, you might be forgiven for thinking that the era was ushered in by hatchet-wielding religious zealots ganging up on quaint neighborhood watering holes.

While there was certainly no shortage of religious fervor among prohibitionists of that time, and while some vicious bar-smashing tools were involved, we shouldn't assume that temperance was a socially conservative idea (even in alcohol marketing materials, IMHO).

Zoom out to a wider historical view of alcohol consumption around the world at that time and the situation starts looking a lot like the modern opioid crisis, says interviewee Mark Lawrence Schrad, who has written extensively about prohibition and its close ties to suffrage, abolition, and consumer protection efforts worldwide.

Alcohol and oppression went hand-in-hand

With powerful people profiteering by active promotion of substance abuse, it's no wonder that social justice activism of that era often started with temperance. Co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley explore temperance-adjacent activism and its relative successes alongside, and perhaps because of, temperance victories like the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment here in the US.

Check it out, you won't be disappointed. And, for good measure and a bit of fun, the second half of the episode covers the history of rum running from Cuba to the US (if Pekut and Carwick had been around a century earlier, I'd be running a fast boat instead of a blog).