Many states had their own state-wide alcohol prohibition before National Prohibition (1920-1933). Many of these laws were much more restrictive than National Prohibition. As a result, people called them bone-dry laws.
Other states passed bone-dry laws in frustration after finding that National Prohibition was failing.
Oklahoma Bone-Dry Law
Oklahoma established state-wide prohibition in 1907. That was before National Prohibition. Its bone-dry law was passed nearly unanimously in 1917. It permitted the use of alcohol by hospitals, pharmacists, colleges, and scientific institutions.
However, it did not permit its consumption for religious purposes. Violations of the law carried a penalty of up to five hundred dollars in fines and six months imprisonment. $500 was a very large fine then. The typical industrial worker made about $1,000 per year.
Also see Prohibition Trivia. It’s fun!
The prohibition against the use of alcohol for sacramental purposes was successfully challenged in 1918. The Roman Catholic Church brought the case. It was De Hasque v. Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
The law was further weakened the same year. That’s when a court ruled that people could possess alcohol not received from a common carrier. But the bone-dry law was in effect until the state repealed its prohibition in 1959.
The Volstead Act implemented Prohibition. It permitted the purchase of alcohol for religious purposes and when prescribed by a doctor. It also permitted drinking under other circumstances specified by law. But that wasn’t strong enough for some states. (See Readings below.)
Indiana Bone-Dry Law
Indiana’s bone-dry law greatly increased the punishments for violations of Prohibition. It also banned the use of alcohol for medicinal, religious, or any other reasons.
This led the president of the Indiana State Medical Association to denounce the ban for medicinal use. It was “unjust, unnecessary, contrary to public policy, a violation of a basic principle and a direct insult to the medical profession.”
The Wright Bone Dry law passed in 1925. It “criminalized possession of empty bottles or kegs that had contained liquor. Even the odor of alcohol lingering in a container was evidence enough for an arrest. First-time violators received thirty-day jail sentences.”1
The governor of the state created a scandal. He had illegally obtained medicinal alcohol for his wife, who was seriously ill.
Many other states passed bone-dry laws in a futile attempt to enforce Prohibition. But its serious failures led to Repeal.
The Sheppard Bone-Dry Act
The Sheppard Bone-Dry Act was also called the District of Columbia Prohibition Act. Officially, it was this. “An Act to prevent the manufacture and sale of alcoholic liquors in the District of Columbia and for other purposes.” The “for other purposes” refers to exceptions, penalties, and other matters.
The Act provided exceptions for religious and medical use. You can read the entire Act here.
Resources: Bone-dry Laws
Alaska “Bone Dry” Law and Kindred Acts. Territory of Alaska: Governor’s Office, 1918.
Bowman, E. “Bone dry” Law: (House Bill 39). Bismark: ND Leg Assem, 1917.
“Bone Dry” act. Mich Law Rev 1918, 16(5), 386-387.
Graves, J. The Reed “bone-dry” amendment. Virg Law Rev, May, 1917, 4(8), 634-642.
1927: ‘Bone-Dry’ Law Denounced. In Our Pages:100, 75 and 50 years ago. New York Times, Oct 15, 2002.
Bone-dry law. In Everett, D. et al. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History. Oklahoma City: Ok Hist Soc, 2009.
On the sauce: Understanding Indiana’s blue laws. Indianapolis Star, Oct 8, 2008.
Seibold, L. Nation-wide blow to dry movement in Virginia’s vote. NY: New York World, 1917.
Madison, J. et al. Hoosiers and the American Story. Indianapolis: Ind Hist Soc, 2014, p. 203.