Thursday, September 13, 2012

Before Carrie Nation--Prohibition in Kansas

Frances Willard
Ask most Kansans to name the woman who led the crusade against liquor, and they will think of Carrie Nation and her hatchet; however, prohibition in Kansas has a much longer history.
When Isaac Werner was a young druggist in Rossville, Illinois, selling liquor was part of his business, and one of the reasons he chose to sell his business was concern about the changing liquor laws.  By the time he arrived in Kansas in 1878 to claim his homestead, he was sympathetic to the prohibition cause, although he was never an active member of the Prohibition Party.
In 1880 Kansas voters (which would have meant men at that time) approved an amendment to the Kansas Constitution prohibiting all manufacture and sale of "intoxicating liquors."  The statewide ban went into effect January 1, 1881, and Kansas laws remained among the strictest in the nation for nearly seven decades, the statewide prohibition lifting only in 1948.  That year the Constitution was amended by authorizing the legislature to regulate, license and tax the manufacturing and sale, as well as the possession and transportation of intoxicating liquor, but open saloons were "forever prohibited."  Gradually, liquor laws were changed to bring Kansas more in line with other states.  
Despite the strict early laws of the state of Kansas, exceptions allowing sales of liquor for medicinal purposes and original container laws that permitted sales in the original containers under interstate commerce allowed liquor into the state.  During these years, a letter to the editor of the County Capital asked just how it was possible in a prohibition state for anyone so inclined to go to St. John or Stafford and get drunk!
While Isaac was living in Kansas, the Prohibition Party was a significant political influence, and at the center of the movement was the Women's Christian Temperance Union led by its second national president, Frances Willard.  Elected in 1879, she held that post for nineteen years.  At a time when women did not have the vote, WCTU women nevertheless championed prohibition through lobbying, petitioning, marching, preaching, publishing, and educating. 
Advertisement from the County Capital
The Prohibition Party created problems for the Populist movement, for among the People's Party were members who both favored prohibition and those who saw no reason to oppose responsibile consumption of liquor.  Whether Populist candidates supported prohibition or ignored the issue, they were bound to offend some portion of their members. 
In 1888 a young lady named Blanche Hazelett arrived in St. John and made her home with dentist Dr. McCann and his wife.  She had come as a WCTU prohibition lecturer, and when Isaac heard her speak at a meeting in Livingston one evening, he wrote in his journal that despite her youth, she was by far the best speaker of the evening.  It was not long before Isaac paid a social call at the McCann residence, and he recorded in his journal the "social time in pleasant surroundings."  Miss Hazelett became the Democratic candidate for County Superintendent of Schools, and her political biography during the campaign included the fact that she had served as secretary to Frances Willard.  When she lost the election, she resumed her travels as a prohibition lecturer, and Isaac enjoyed no further social calls on Miss Hazelett.
Frances Willard expanded the activities of the WCTU beyond prohibition, advocating for education, better working conditions for laborers, improved sanitation and health regulation, child protection laws, and work relief for the poor.  But foremost among her goals was what she called "Home Protection," which she felt could be best achieved by securing the vote for women above the age of twenty-one.  For those women who found the suffragists too strident and unladylike, home protection offered a socially acceptable way to work for enfranchisement.  With the vote, women believed they could impact laws concerning the issues important to protect their homes and families, including stricter laws to enforce prohibition.
Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard died in 1898, but the Women's Christian Temperance Union carries forward its mission to this day.

Membership certificate of Ester (Esther) Hoopes
A friend shared this wonderful family document with me after reading this week's post about the WCTU.  The certificate belonged to her great grandmother, and she added the note that her ancestor was buried wearing her Carrie Nation pin.  Anthony, Kansas, where Esther Hoopes lived, is not far from Medicine Lodge, Kansas, home of Carrie Nation.  Thank you, Helen, for this wonderful addition to my post!     


The Blog Fodder said...

Good thing the trail drives were a thing of the past when saloons were outlawed. Of course there are always loopholes, otherwise people couldn't make money.
Never understood the popularity of prohibition, considering the popularity of booze.
Interesting how it split the populist movement. The Luddites of the Looney Left are with us yet, espousing less than useless causes which serve only to divert effort from social and economic justice.

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