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Prohibition

Prohibition Pin
An ax-shaped, pro-temperance political campaign pin. WSHS - All rights reserved.

Concerns about alcohol were widespread in the late nineteenth century, but Washington voters had turned down prohibition along with women’s suffrage in 1889. By the early twentieth century, however, new brewing technologies and the coming of the railroads made for easier distribution of alcoholic beverages to every community. This, coupled with Progressive ideals about the importance of individual health influencing social well-being and more vocal and organized prohibition groups, fostered increased opposition to saloons. A wide-ranging local-option bill passed the legislature in 1909 in which 30 percent of registered voters in towns, cities, and unincorporated county areas could petition for an election to vote dry. Legislators also restricted saloon operations—e.g., keeping minors and women out of saloons and providing for unrestricted views of saloon interiors.1 Seventy local-option elections were on ballots around the state along with the women’s suffrage amendment in November 1910, and in many cases local-option results garnered larger headlines than the women’s victory. Although pressed for further action, the 1911 legislature failed to impose more restrictions.

Vote Dry
Women carrying signs in Seattle during a Vote Dry march, circa 1916. WSHS - All rights reserved.

With the addition of initiative and referendum to the Washington constitution in 1912, anti-saloon forces circulated a prohibition proposition, Initiative Measure 3, and secured enough signatures for the measure to be on the 1914 ballot. Many of the same groups that supported women’s suffrage, such as Progressives, the Grange, the WCTU, and churches, also backed prohibition in Washington.2 An overwhelming 94.6 percent of the eligible voters in Washington cast their ballots on the initiative for a state constitutional prohibition amendment, which won by a margin of 18,632 votes.3 The law, which took effect January 1, 1916, closed saloons but allowed individuals to secure as much as two quarts of liquor or twelve quarts of beer every twenty days by permit from county auditors. Lawmakers in 1917 enacted a stricter, “bone-dry” law that ended the permit system of obtaining alcohol, an act upheld by voter referendum in 1918. The Eighteenth Amendment for national prohibition went into effect in 1920. Washington voted by initiative for repeal of state liquor laws in 1932. National Prohibition was revoked in 1933.

Notes

    1. Norman H. Clark, The Dry Years: Prohibition and Social Change in Washington, (Seattle: University of Washington Press), 1988, 90-91.
    2. Information adapted from Clark, Dry Years.
    3. Clark, Dry Years, 113