The Woman's National Committee for Law Enforcement (alternatively spelled Women's National Committee for Law Enforcement) was a federation of Protestant women's organizations established in 1922 to promote more vigorous enforcement of Prohibition laws. Organized at both the national and state levels, it claimed membership of twelve million women by 1932.
National chair Lucy Peabody (Mrs. Henry Peabody) asserted at a Methodist Church in Plattsburg, New York, that opposition to National Prohibition was the fourth rebellion against the United States constitution since the founding of the nation. She was confident that opposition would be suppressed and National Prohibition preserved.
The Women's National Committee for Law Enforcement adamantly opposed "any tampering with this momentous reform [of National Prohibition], and they used their time-honored tactics of exhortation and statistics, mingling their ideas with religious sentiment in a setting of luncheons and social hours to achieve this end."1
However, the federation didn't restrict its activities to social and religious environments. For example, Lucy Peabody appeared before Congress in 1926 to argue for stronger enforcement of Prohibition:
We represent here to-day not only organizations of women, but, as a whole, we represent the home, the school, the church, and we stand firmly for no amendment to the eighteenth amendment. We hold the Constitution of the United States inviolate. We stand for no modification of the Volstead Act, but rather a strengthening. We stand for strict law enforcement, with the removal of all men who do not strictly enforce the law.
We believe that in the greater part of the territory of this country the law is observed as well as any law. Having traveled in various parts of this country we did not observe more drinking than ever. We find conditions vastly improved. Health, as testified to by the insurance companies; morals, as shown by the statements which will be produced later; and certainly the economic condition, on the word of our Secretary of Commerce, seem to have justified prohibition.
The conditions in States like New York and Maryland, where there is no State enforcement law, which is required by the eighteenth amendment, framed to secure concurrent action, are bad. The only remedy, it seems to us, as women, is not a change of law which is satisfactory to the majority of the States, but to do what the Constitution requires to make the law enforceable. That would remove very many of the offenses which are piled up to prove that the Nation is not appearing to enforce its laws.2
The leader of the Women's National Committee for Law Enforcement continued that
As women, we know the old saloon and the wreckage in homes and lives of boys, men, and women. While the vote for the eighteenth amendment was the vote of the men--it was also the vote of the women who had prayed and worked for protection from this ancient evil. We had thought it settled, and perhaps for that reason and believing in the Constitution, we have not done as much as we should have done to see to the enforcement of the law. Perhaps we as women, not being in the position to select men who should administer these laws, trusted too much and needed the awakening which has come. We are convinced that we have a good law--a righteous law--written into the Constitution of the United States--that it does not in any way affect the personal liberty of well-doers--those loyal to the highest interests of the country and the great majority of the people.3
Mrs. Peabody then took a paternal stance:
We are not satisfied that the law is being enforced in all places. We are sure it will be when the Nation has had time to adjust itself. In a well-regulated home it is the policy of a mother to work faithfully and patiently, knowing that perfect obedience requires law and discipline. It is never the policy of a good mother or teacher to say the children are disobedient--therefore let us give in to them and let them do as they like.4
With the passage of time, more and more Americans became convinced that National Prohibition was so unpopular that it could never be adequately enforced with anything less than the establishment of a police state.
In addition, they became increasingly convinced that not only was Prohibition unsuccessful, but that it actually created serious societal problems of organized crime, corruption, disrespect for law, the glamorization of drinking and defying the law, and numerous other problems.
Therefore, the activities of the Women's National Committee for Law Enforcement and the other anti-Repeal groups were doomed to failure and the Twenty-First Amendment establishing Repeal was implemented in 1933.
Filed Under: Prohibition