Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
West Virginia imposed state prohibition on its citizens on July 1, 1914. While the transition to a dry society was relatively quiet in the days leading up to July 1, this tranquility belied the sixty-year battle waged between Mountain State "wets" and "drys" over liquor proscription. Beginning in the 1850s among evangelical Protestants, the anti-liquor movement pushed for different levels of alcohol proscription. By the 1880s, drys were pushing for a state prohibitory amendment to the West Virginia Constitution. The legislative efforts of these pre-progressive agitators failed on multiple occasions. This political disappointment peaked with the statewide rejection of a prohibition referendum in 1888. In short, while teetotalers were able to secure local and county-level prohibition via ordinances and commission elections and chip away at the saloon trade through incremental adjustments to state liquor law, West Virginia was not yet ready to climb aboard the water wagon.;Around the turn of the twentieth century, Mountain State drys had activated a more sophisticated and well-funded propaganda campaign. The key to this development was the founding of the West Virginia Anti-Saloon League. Better organization was not enough, however, to explain why West Virginians would eventually authorize state liquor proscription in 1912. The Mountain State also experienced a rapid form of industrialization that changed its socioeconomic and political environment. These changes enhanced a philosophical shift from a laissez-faire, Gilded Age sensibility defined by intense political and social localism to an outlook more closely aligned with Progressive-era activism. In other words, before the turn of the twentieth century, West Virginians accepted localized liquor proscription, but tended to avoid more bureaucratic or statewide anti-alcohol fixes. Once industrialization hit and progressivism seeped in, however, Mountain State residents were more likely to accept the idea of imposing their beliefs on their neighbors.;In 1912, West Virginia voters overwhelmingly authorized a constitution amendment providing for statewide prohibition. Unfortunately for drys, in spite of their best efforts at closing off loopholes and plugging the dam, the Mountain State was never as dry as the Yost Law dictated. Bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, and widespread illicit distilling delegitimized the law in the eyes of many West Virginians. By the time progressivism waned and America entered the Great Depression, most Americans -- Mountain State citizens included -- wanted state and federal prohibition to go away. West Virginians repealed national prohibition in 1933 and the Yost Law in 1934.;The rise and fall of prohibition in West Virginia lends valuable insight and complexity to many of the Mountain State's post-bellum social, economic, and political struggles. "Vending Vice" is the story of the temporary victory of northern industrialization and centralized bureaucracy over southern Bourbon Democracy and localism. This tension existed in numerous states during the industrial period, but it was especially noticeable in West Virginia. It is also the story of socioeconomic change and upheaval, and the defensive imposition of middle-class, Protestant values over an increasingly diverse population. In the end, though, it is the story of the breakdown of the progressive impulse after World War I, the collapse of the post-war economy, and the gradual acceptance by most West Virginians -- and their government -- that liquor can be more than simply a social evil.
Buseman, Michael J., "Vending Vice: The Rise and Fall of West Virginia State Prohibition, 1852--1934" (2012). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 324.