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Prohibition, Suffrage—and Iced Tea

     I have met people who think Prohibition began in 1920. That, of course, is the date that national prohibition took effect—became the “law of the land”—as a result of the Eighteenth Amendment, approved in Congress in 1917 and ratified by the final state in 1919.

     But the prohibition impulse was almost as old as the country and accelerated in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Prohibition Party was formed in 1869. One strategy of prohibition proponents was “local option,” which meant the voters in a governmental unit could choose wet or dry. In 1887, 83 of 114 Missouri counties approved local option. Within two years, 61 governmental units (towns or counties) used the local option to vote dry. Spread throughout the years that followed, another 35 governmental units voted to go dry. Missouri was one of the states that allowed both city/town and county local options. (By 1914, so much of the state was dry that prohibitionists claimed it as a dry state.) 

     A statewide prohibition vote was set for November of 1910. Missourians voted down statewide prohibition, two to one, and you can imagine that the vote against prohibition was even more lop-sided in St. Louis. A map of wet and dry counties in 1910 shows a few counties along the rivers and many larger towns and cities still wet. They must have contained a good majority of the population.

     Prohibition is at the heart of the violence in my first book, The Good Old Summertime. The first action takes place near the line between a dry county and a wet one. The statewide vote takes place during the events of the third book in the series,  Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl.

     In the first book, I use Ste. Genevieve and Perry counties as the wet and dry locales, respectively. There had to be adjoining counties with differing votes on prohibition, but I could not find the status of these two counties—or any counties—when I began writing the book. These two are located perfectly for purposes of the story. By the time the book was almost on its way to publication, I found out that Perry County was wet in 1910. I did not rewrite. There was no county adjacent to Ste. Genevieve that was wet, although a county just west of Perry was dry. Redoing the entire novel at that point did not seem reasonable. 

     It is worth saying here that this is the situation historical fiction writers face when we conclude that history could have played out a particular way, and if we don’t stop doing research, we will never get around to writing fiction.

     Two references: Missouri Government and Politics, edited by Rochard J. Hardy, Richard R. Dohm, and David A. Leuthold, 1995, and Pathways to Prohibition: Radicals, Moderates, and Social Movement Outcomes, by Ann-Marie E. Szymanski, 2003.  There are other good books out there on this fascinating and frustrating episode in US history. If you want to read about the period from 1920 to 1933 that most people associate with “Prohibition,” try Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. (2010)  The maps of wet and dry counties in Missouri, showing the rapid changes from 1906 through 1910 to 1914, are in nice piece about prohibitionist Carrie Nation done by the State Historical Society of Missouri. See its online site.


     So, how is suffrage, short-hand for legislation that gave women the right to vote, related to prohibition? The answer is that the two were linked in the public mind. Many women who wanted the vote apparently also supported prohibition—or at least enough of them for many men to make that connection. Men who opposed prohibition were likely to also oppose the suffrage on grounds that the new wave of women voters would push prohibition into being. 

     Carrie Chapman Catt, who saw the drive for national suffrage complete with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, said in her memoir that men who opposed prohibition contributed funds to the anti-suffrage movement. In particular, she named Augustus Busch of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company of St. Louis as a leading funder of the anti-suffrage campaign. (See Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement, 1923.)

     Catt, who served as head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), was writing in retrospect when she noted that the passage of the 18th Amendment helped secure passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. And it makes sense that the approval of prohibition dried up funding from anti-prohibition sources.  Oops! Was that a pun?

     Both amendments, once passed, had to be ratified by 2/3 of the states, which was 36 states at the time. The 18th Amendment was ratified in time to go into effect on January 1, 1920. The 19th Amendment was ratified in time for women to vote in the national/state/local elections of November 1920. The proximity of the two events probably linked the two even more closely in the public mind. 

     In St. Louis in 1910, the suffrage movement was revitalizing and reorganizing itself. In the 19th century, St. Louis had actually witnessed the first woman trying to vote when Virginia Minor went to the polls. She lost an appeal after she was turned away, and that loss made specific the ban on women exercising the franchise. St. Louis had the basis, therefore, for an active suffrage movement in the 19th century, but the momentum died out early in the 20th century. 

     In 1910, the St. Louis Equal Suffrage League was started in the homes of Central West End matrons. By 1919, when the NAWSA was holding its national convention in St. Louis and celebrating the coming victory, the Equal Suffrage League included women from across the city.

     For more information on suffrage in St. Louis, I can recommend two articles of my own. The first article, “Politics, Economic Provisioning, and Suffrage in St. Louis: What Women Said, What Men Heard,” was published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 71, no. 1, January 2012.  It deals with the conditions that led to passage of woman suffrage in Missouri.  The second article,"What Men Expected, What Women Did: the Political Economy of Suffrage in St. Louis, 1920-1928," Missouri Historical Review,  Vol. 109, no. 1, October 2014, is an investigation of what St. Louis women did with the vote when they got it.  (I am honored to receive the Mary C. Neth Prize for the best article on women in the Review for 2014-15. The prize was given by the State Historical Society of Missouri in October 2015.) 

     The short version of the first article is that women got the vote when it was in the interest of progressive male voters to grant it. The short version of the second article is that St. Louis women did an excellent job of exercising the vote in 1920. They helped defeat two judges involved in a “Courthouse Ring.” They helped elect a woman to the School Board and helped make that group non-partisan. They challenged, but did not defeat, the U.S. Senator who had opposed suffrage. After a couple of years, the national League of Women Voters advised the group to stick to get-out-the-vote activities. 

     So, what’s going on with iced tea? This is an example of how difficult historical research can be—or, more accurately, how difficult people can make it. I bother to include the issue here because I recently saw a Facebook post that offered facts about 1915. It said iced tea hadn’t been invented yet. I didn’t bother to reply, but this is on the silly side.  I don’t think iced tea would be “invented.” It’s simply a matter of someone with access to ice deciding to cool down a cup of tea on a hot day. 

     Iced tea is related to St. Louis because you can find sources that say iced tea was “invented” at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904. I found that phrase on a trivia site. However, I like the explanation on that cites an 1880s article reporting the serving of iced tea at a Confederate soldiers reunion. So, iced tea was “understood” before 1904, but it might have been reached a wider clientele with fairgoers in 1904.

     And, of course, even if the 1904 date were accurate, that’s a good while before 1915. 

     The real issue in 1910 was the scarcity of ice in hot weather. People used ice to keep food cool in ice boxes, the forerunner of refrigerators. You can imagine how much food went bad in August. Furthermore, it’s almost certain that you’d never be served a tall glass of ice with not-so-much tea, as is common today. 

     Here’s a short scene from The Good Old Summertime, in which Julia walks into a beer garden in Soulard.


          I was torn between wanting to put them to work on my investigation and listening [to their music] for a while.      Listening won. I did go back out to the beer counter to order an iced tea. Most establishments in St. Louis served        iced tea in the summer as a matter of civic pride because it had been popular at the Fair in 1904. 

          “Tea, miss? You want tea?” 

          “Yes, indeed.” 

          The man behind the counter muttered, “Waste of good ice,” but he served up a nicely sweetened drink in a            beer stein. 


     Historical research is such fun!


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