by Julia Ornelas-Higdon, Ph.D.
“After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”
The 18th Amendment represented the culmination of almost a century of temperance reform movements. Beginning in the early 19th century, Protestant Anglo women began organizing in favor of laws banning alcohol. Temperance reformers believed that Prohibition laws would help protect women and children from poverty caused by husbands and fathers who spent their wages on alcohol, and from abuse at the hands of men who became violent when drunk. The movement gained traction in the early 1870s with the founding of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a social reform group that began campaigning for Prohibition and women’s rights at the state level. By 1915, Prohibition laws were on the books across 18 Southern and Midwestern states, regions largely populated by Baptists, Methodists and other Protestant denominations that opposed alcohol.
Ultimately, World War I put the temperance movement on the fast track toward national Prohibition. In the face of wartime conservation, the U.S. Food Administration declared that grains previously used for alcohol production must be used for food instead. World War I also witnessed nativism against immigrants, including Eastern and Southern European immigrants who consumed wine, and German-Americans, who represented the nation’s most important brewers. This made beer and wine consumption seem unpatriotic and un-American, allowing temperance advocates to gain the support necessary to make Prohibition a national cause.
Congress passed the 18th Amendment on Dec. 18, 1917, and the states ratified it on Jan. 16, 1919. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment in 1933.