Prohibition. In case you didn’t know, there was a time in the 20th century when it was illegal to buy alcohol or consume it in public. It was an Amendment to the Constitution – the 18th Amendment. And it was vigorously campaigned for by primarily religious and social groups. It was the outgrowth of a social movement which began in the early 1800’s, when Alcohol was considered a plague on society.
And although it had always been bubbling under our social framework, the Temperance Movement gained considerable popularity in the early 20th century. The movement gained further traction during World War 1, and on August 1st 1917, a bill was introduced that made it illegal to possess, purchase or consume alcohol within the United States. The Bill was ratified in 1919 and the 18th Amendment, known as the Volstead Act was passed and went into effect on January 17, 1920.
And for the next 13 years, America was known as a Dry Country. What The Volstead Act did, was create an underground society and an explosion in organized crime. When the law first came into affect, alcohol consumption dropped considerably. But within months it skyrocketed, as did the crime rate as did the rate of deaths from alcohol poisoning from homemade, or “rotgut” alcohol from underground distilleries springing up around the country.
Coupled with civic corruption, officials who were bribed to look the other way, and an overwhelming of most police forces around the country, Prohibition was considered by many to be a political and social failure.
But not to those who campaigned so vigorously for its passage. And when The Volstead Act was repealed in 1933, it brought about an outcry from religious fundamentalists who wanted Prohibition kept as it was.
And so Radio, that new social tool which wound its way into most homes in America, became the perfect forum for fundamentalists to take to the airwaves, programs sprang up, such the one hosted by Ethel Hubler, editor of The National Voice, a Temperance Magazine and an arm of an organization dedicated to the reinstatement of Prohibition. Hubler hosted a weekly program which was heard across the country from the mid-1930s until roughly the early 1940s.
To give you an idea of what Prohibition advocates sounded like, here is a portion of a show which aired sometime between 1934 and 1935 featuring Ethel Hubler of The National Voice, making her case why Prohibition was a good thing and Alcohol was a one-way ticket to hell. It’s possible to draw comparisons to the current argument about legalizing Marijuana – and how making something illegal only serves to create an underground society in order to get around it.