Skip to Main Content

Prohibition Era: About

Prohibition Years: 1920-1933


Origins of Prohibition

The Prohibition Era began in 1920 when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors, went into effect with the passage of the Volstead Act. Despite the new legislation, Prohibition was difficult to enforce. The increase of the illegal production and sale of liquor (known as “bootlegging”), the proliferation of speakeasies (illegal drinking spots) and the accompanying rise in gang violence and organized crime led to waning support for Prohibition by the end of the 1920s. In early 1933, Congress adopted a resolution proposing a 21st Amendment to the Constitution that would repeal the 18th. The 21st Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933, ending Prohibition.

In the 1820s and ’30s, a wave of religious revivalism swept the United States, leading to increased calls for temperance, as well as other “perfectionist” movements such as the abolitionist movement to end slavery. In 1838, the state of Massachusetts passed a temperance law banning the sale of spirits in less than 15-gallon quantities; though the law was repealed two years later, it set a precedent for such legislation. Maine passed the first state prohibition laws in 1846, followed by a stricter law in 1851. A number of other states had followed suit by the time the Civil War began in 1861.

By the turn of the century, temperance societies like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) were a common fixture in communities across the United States. Women played a strong role in the temperance movement, as alcohol was seen as a destructive force in families and marriages. Continue reading from History

Prohibition History and Women's Suffrage

By aligning the prohibition movement with the suffrage movement, women were able to drum up strong support for women’s right to vote. While the push for suffrage began in the middle of the 19th century, efforts surged forward during the 1910s with the National Woman’s Party. Several women’s suffrage associations produced pamphlets and magazines promoting their cause. Many women tried to vote illegally, picketed the White House, and went to jail for protesting.

In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson switched his stance on women’s suffrage and equated suffrage with the escalated involvement of women in World War I efforts. Just seven months after enacting the 18th Amendment, the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote passed. Throughout the 1920s women made more political progress. Maria C. Brehm was the first female candidate for vice president when she ran on the Prohibition Party ticket in 1924. Continue reading from The Mob Museum

Books From Our Collection

Discover more resource guides focusing on world history. 
"We are not makers of history.  We are made by history" - Martin Luther King, Jr.