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The Temperance Movement and The Road to Prohibition

From the earliest days of European settlement, Americans drank prodigious amounts of alcohol. Almost every aspect of early American economic and social life involved alcohol. Far from being seen as evil, alcohol was an essential element of the table, a stimulant for work, and a social lubricant for good fellowship—especially in a world where water purity was always in question. One estimate puts annual per capita consumption of alcohol at almost 4 gallons in 1830.

The temperance movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries grew as a reaction to the perceived overconsumption of alcohol. It was one of the longest lasting social reform movements in the United States and sought to radically change the way Americans consumed alcohol. Public support of the temperance movement was a major impetus for the 18th Amendment establishing national Prohibition. Followers of the temperance movement believed alcohol was to blame for societal problems like unemployment, crime, poverty, and domestic abuse.

Many women recognized the damaging effects of drinking on the family and worked through anti-liquor organizations and moral persuasion to regulate alcohol consumption. They supported the power of the state to curb drinking and alcohol, even as the state denied women an essential political right—voting. Instead, women who supported the temperance movement sponsored parades, established rooms stacked with prohibition literature, and canvassed for the prohibition vote. Involvement in the … read more »

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Pardon Me

Within the records of Governor E. Lee Trinkle (1922-1926) are several boxes relating to extraditions and pardons of prisoners. I came across one letter from Leroy Kittrell to the Governor, dated 12 December 1923, asking for a pardon after his conviction for running a still. In his letter, he appealed to the Governor for a pardon, stating that his son had recently been murdered , his wife had injured herself and could not work, and he was needed to support the family. I found an article from the Richmond Times Dispatch, 26 November 1923, regarding the shooting of Eddie Kittrell, a nine-year-old African American boy who is presumably Mr. Kittrell’s son.

I found this letter so interesting not only because of the sad story but mostly because of the beautiful hand-drawn images of Santa Claus, horse, carriage and snowy scenery. It is unclear if Governor Trinkle pardoned the gentleman, since the only thing in the files for Mr. Kittrell is this letter. It is highly doubtful that Governor Trinkle issued a pardon because he supported Prohibition and rejected most, if not all, applications for pardons that dealt with the illegal production of alcohol. Mr. Kittrell must have been a talented artist though. This is one of the prettiest drawings I’ve seen and thought others should get to enjoy it too.

-Renee Savits, State records … read more »

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Drying Out Dixieland: The Confederacy and Prohibition

What do prohibition and the American Civil War have in common? More than you may think. The debate over prohibition in Virginia, which culminated in Virginia going “dry” on 1 November 1916, occurred during a period of sectional reconciliation between the North and the South. In November 1912, Woodrow Wilson became the first southern Democrat elected President of the United States since the Civil War; Union and Confederate troops held a reunion in Gettysburg in July 1913; and in 1916, a Confederate Memorial was created at Arlington National Cemetery. However, as the country was becoming less divided over the war, new divisions arose over prohibition. Over the course of state and later national prohibition, both opponents and proponents used the memory of the Civil War and especially the Confederacy to support their positions.

A 1914 anti-prohibition tract from the Virginia Association for Local Self-Government proclaimed that “a large majority of Virginians are free and independent and will not bend to the lash of the invader’s whip.” The Anti-Saloon League (derisively referred to by opponents as the Ohio Anti-Saloon League) faced problems in much of the former Confederacy due to its northern origins, as well as the strong antebellum links between the temperance and abolitionist movements. Although organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) flourished in Virginia starting in the 1880s, the Virginia Anti-Saloon … read more »

Over There and Over Here: Virginia, World War I, and the Records of the War History Commission

Editor’s note: This post was adapted from a talk given by Roger Christman, state records archivist.


Virginia in the War: Topical Outline for a City or County War History - Publication No. 3, Virginia War History Commission, Series IX Office Files, box 233, folder 3, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

A hundred years ago, on 6 April 1917, the United States officially entered World War I, declaring war on Germany almost three years after the conflict began in Europe. Virginia was a major participant in the United States’ war effort. Just over 100,000 Virginians served in World War I, with over 4,000 dying from disease, combat, and training accidents, and many more injured or disabled. Several areas in Virginia became essential centers for the war effort; these included Hampton Roads as a supply and deployment center, the naval base at Norfolk, the horse remount station in Front Royal, and the mobilization base now known as Fort Lee.

Virginia will commemorate the World War I centennial with a number of events and projects. The Virginia World War I and World War II Profiles of Honor Mobile Tour will provide an interactive exhibit to museums, libraries, and historic sites throughout Virginia. Visitors will be invited to bring their own World War I and II-related photographs to be scanned for inclusion in the Virginia Profiles of Honor project. The Library of Virginia will catalog these materials, and some will be featured on Transcribe along with materials from our other collections.


Photograph of Arthur Kyle Davis, Virginia War History Commission, Series XI. Office Files, 1917-1927, box 160, folder 1, Accession 37219, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Efforts to document Virginia’s involvement in WWI are far from new, however.  In … read more »

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A Few of Our Favorite Things: Even More Letterhead in the Archive

As promised in a previous post, here’s another look at some of the plethora of letterheads and stationery found in our archives.  The original text by Vince Brooks is included here for context.

Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. As commercial artists influenced the job printing profession, the illustrations became more detailed and creative.

Robert Biggert, an authority on commercial stationery, wrote an extensive study of letterhead design for the Ephemera Society of America entitled “Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery” and donated his personal collection of stationery, now known as the Biggert Collection, to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.

The primary role of these illustrations at the time of their use was publicity. The images showed bustling factories, busy street corners, and sturdy bank buildings–all portraying ideas of solidity, activity, and progress. Other types of symbolism can be found in commercial stationery, the most ubiquitous being “man’s best friend.” Dogs … read more »

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“To the land of their fathers”: Emancipation and the Virginia Colonization Board

The American Colonization Society was founded in 1817 to promote the voluntary return of free African Americans in the United States to Africa. In 1822, the Society founded a colony on the west coast of Africa that would become the independent nation of Liberia in 1847. In total, over 3,700 Virginians left for Africa between 1820 and 1865. Many emigrated voluntary, hoping to create better lives for themselves and their families in a colony where they could live as free citizens with full rights; others left only as a requirement of their emancipation. Such was the case with the enslaved persons owned by Elizabeth Gordon of Orange County. In her will, recorded on 22 November 1852, she freed her slaves with instructions that they be sent to Liberia with assistance from Rev. John Royal, who worked with the Virginia Colonization Society.

The General Assembly created the Virginia Colonization Board in April 1853, replacing several earlier incarnations of the Board, in order to help fund the transportation, removal, and settlement of Virginia free persons of color to Liberia. The Virginia Colonization Society, a branch of the American Colonization Society, arranged for the actual passage to Africa and presented the required affidavits to the Colonization Board, proving that individuals were free as of 6 April 1853 and were residents of the state. The Colonization Board reimbursed the … read more »

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A morning not unlike any other morning

December 7th marked a “day that will live in infamy” for many Virginians. However, for one Richmond family, the crucial day fell not in 1941, but in 1955. On that day, at approximately 9:23 am, the three small children of Benjamin Dennis III and his wife Jean were upstairs in their Windsor Farms home watching Captain Kangaroo, a children’s program that had debuted two months earlier. Minutes later, flames shot out the windows of their home. A U.S. Navy McDonnell F2H Banshee fighter jet had crashed outside their house, twenty-five feet from where the children were happily watching television.

 

Coverage of the immediate aftermath of this alarming event can be heard on recordings made by Richmond radio station WRVA. The newscasts have been migrated and saved on compact disc at The Library of Virginia, through funding from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The recordings capture the accounts of WRVA reporter Alden Aaroe on the scene minutes after the crash, as well as those of eyewitnesses. Coverage can also be found in newspaper accounts in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Richmond News-Leader.

Ensign Robert Ammann of Dallas, Texas, was on training maneuvers in his jet based at Oceana Naval Air Station, near Norfolk, with a fellow pilot in another aircraft. Traveling at 300 miles an hour, the two jets were flying about … read more »

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Here We Go A-Caroling

The Out of the Box bloggers will be taking a break for the holidays, but we’ll be back in the new year! In the meantime, enjoy this sheet music produced by the Hotel Richmond in the early twentieth century, part of the Library’s Special Collections. It and many other items can be found in our digital collections.

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Three Elections That Remade Virginia

Editor’s note: Tomorrow is Election Day! Get out and vote!

For well over half of the 20th century, Virginia state politics was dominated by a conservative Democratic machine, which was perfected by the organization of Governor and U.S. Senator Harry Byrd. The Byrd Organization drew its strength from rural counties, benefitting from a state constitution and laws that depressed voter turnout by effectively disenfranchising African Americans and poor whites. By the end of the 1960s, this changed. Laws restricting voting based on race were lifting, the urban and suburban populations were rapidly increasing, and the state’s Republican Party was expanding. In 1969, the GOP broke the Democratic monopoly on state office by electing Linwood Holton governor.

 

The 1973 gubernatorial race highlighted these changes. Lieutenant Governor Henry Howell ran as an independent candidate by choice, receiving the commendation of the state Democratic Party. The party’s nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general remained neutral in the campaign, not endorsing Howell. The state Republican Party was in more disarray. Constitutionally unable to renominate sitting Republican Governor Holton, the party had no candidate to oppose the popular yet liberal Howell. Desperate, Republican leaders turned to Mills Godwin, last of the Byrd Organization governors, hoping that he would secure conservative Democratic voters dismayed by the state Democratic Party’s liberal shift. Godwin reluctantly accepted the Republican … read more »

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Dry Voters, Wet Drinkers: The Anniversary of Virginia’s Prohibition

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the first day of Virginia’s state-wide prohibition. To see more about the build-up to the referendum that dried up Virginia, see yesterday’s blog post.

The drys won out on 22 September 1914. The Temperance cause heralded this as a “mighty victory.” And indeed, state-wide prohibition won out by almost 60% of the vote, with 94,251 votes in favor and 63,086 opposed. Interestingly, the total voter turnout of 158,000 was significantly higher than the total for the 1912 Presidential election, which had a turnout of 136,900. Out of 100 counties, 71 voted dry, as well as every city except for Alexandria, Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Richmond.

State-wide prohibition went into effect on 1 November 1916, heralded by church rallies where parishioners rang bells and shouted out “Hallelujah!” at midnight. Despite the new law, alcohol didn’t completely disappear from the Commonwealth. Of the six major breweries in Virginia at the time, only one—Portner’s of Alexandria—closed down immediately. Brewers and distillers were temporarily allowed to remain in business as long as they sold their products out of state. Several breweries attempted to establish themselves as sellers of soda or other non-alcoholic beverages, with limited success. In contrast, the Garret and Company winery, located near Norfolk since 1903, immediately closed down operations and relocated to New York and California.

Home … read more »