Tag Archives: Virginia Prohibition Commission

- 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.

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- “How Dry I Am!” – The Virginia Prohibition Commission Records

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in The Delimiter,  the Library’s in-house on-line newsletter.  It has been shortened and edited slightly.


Black-and-white photograph of policeman standing alongside wrecked car and cases of moonshine liquor. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.  Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons.

This week Out of the Box would like to spotlight the records of the Virginia Prohibition Commission, 1916-1934 (Accession 42740).  The collection contains 203 boxes of paper and two volumes spanning nearly 20 years.  The records provide valuable insight into enforcement of Prohibition laws in Virginia, as well as a glimpse into significant societal changes occurring at that time.  Yet, this valuable resource was nearly lost to generations of researchers. In 1938, a bill was submitted to the House of Delegates seeking to destroy the records; however, the editors of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and citizens of the community strongly protested that these records should be preserved. A bill was eventually passed transferring custody of the records of the Prohibition Commission to the State Librarian “to preserve such of the records and papers as he may be of the opinion should be preserved for historical or other interest.”   The Library of Virginia processed this collection in 2010.

The Virginia Prohibition Commission was created in 1916 by an act of the General Assembly to enforce the Virginia Prohibition Act, which went into effect on 1 November 1916.  This law did not restrict individuals’ ability to manufacture alcoholic beverages, or “ardent spirits,” for their own … read more »