This broadside was circulated in Staunton, Virginia, sometime between 1900 and 1919. In it, the women of Staunton asked the men in their community to vote in favor of prohibition, or the legal elimination of alcohol consumption and sale. The women pleaded with the male voters, appealing to the masculine “duty” to care for the women in their families. In stating their case, the women used their positions as wives, mothers, and protectors of the domestic sphere to give them authority. As the broadside stated, their “boys” were the people supporting the liquor business and those sons were “too precious to be sacrificed upon the altar of the saloon.” This broadside demonstrates the common concern about alcoholism and the effects that excessive drinking had on society. The women of Staunton argued that men who spent their time and money drinking in the saloons neglected to care for their families, thereby shirking their duties as men.
The Staunton broadside plays on a common theme in the prohibition movement. For much of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, women reformers dominated the movement. Temperance and prohibition were considered natural causes for women to champion because they involved morality and the home, women's areas of expertise and responsibility. The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in 1874 in Ohio, and prohibition was the organization's main concern. Outlawing alcohol was only one goal of the WCTU, however. Many of its members were also involved in other reform movements, including woman suffrage, which is apparent in this document. The broadside indicates that women should be permitted to vote allowing, them to “PROTECT OUR OWN HOMES AND OUR OWN BOYS.” Without the vote, women were dependent on male voters to protect home and society.
Going beyond the promotion of temperance, the prohibition movement advocated complete prohibition of the manufacture, sale, and consumption of all alcoholic beverages and was eventually successful. Virginia's state prohibition law went into effect in 1916, and national prohibition came when the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution went into effect in 1920. Although the sale and consumption of alcohol was outlawed throughout the United States, an illegal, and oftentimes violent, alcohol trade was established and flourished. During the Great Depression, Prohibition became seen as an obstacle to economic recovery. Congress submitted the Twenty-First Amendment to the states, and when it was ratified in 1933 Prohibition was repealed.
1. What is prohibition?
2. Why did these women think alcohol was bad?
3. What was the WCTU?
4. How did lawmakers make alcohol illegal throughout the entire nation?
1. Compare this document with the “Petition from the ‘females of Augusta County.” What is similar about the two? How do they both use traditional gender roles to argue for what they want?
2. Describe the rhetoric the authors of this appeal use to make their case.
Dannenbaum, Jed. "The Origins of Temperance Activism and Militancy among American Women." Journal of Social History 15, no. 2 (Winter, 1981): 235–252.
Varon, Elizabeth R. We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.