Prohibition in Connecticut, as elsewhere, was part of a cultural war.
The state’s Yankee old-stock population advocated prohibition. A flood of southern and eastern European immigrants was entering the state. Prohibition was seen as a way to reduce the crime, poverty and vice the Yankees associated with the newer arrivals.
Yale economist Irving Fisher was a strong promoter of prohibition. He complained that in Connecticut cities “the American stock has been submerged by a wave of immigrants from Italy, the Balkans, Russia, and Poland.”
The Connecticut Temperance Society, the Prohibition Party, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, the Connecticut Ku Klux Klan and other groups saw prohibition as a way to “Americanize” immigrants.
Some employers viewed prohibition as a way to increase the efficiency of their work force, especially their immigrant workers. But not everyone supported prohibition.
Organized Labor Opposition
Organized labor tended to oppose it. Unions thought it was an attempt to make workers more docile. Union leader Samuel Gompers complained that Prohibition was the only amendment in history to reduce rather than expand the freedoms enjoyed by Americans.
Many people in Connecticut weren’t going to let their freedom to drink be denied. Legal, tax-paying alcohol producers and retailers were outlawed. They were replaced by illegal operators, including organized criminals. They quickly met the brisk demand for alcohol.
Bootleggers and speakeasies had to bribe law enforcement officers and even entire departments. They often had to bribe elected officials. The public became alarmed at the decline in public morality.
Prohibition denied the state tax revenues from alcohol. This was at the same time it was causing dramatic increases in crime and violence, heavy court expenses, and over-crowded jails.
Bootleg alcohol was carelessly made. It often contained creosote, lead toxins and even embalming fluid. Consumers sometimes suffered paralysis, blindness and death. This led many drinkers to switch to opium, cocaine, hair tonic, sterno, and other dangerous substances. They would have been unlikely to use these in the absence of Prohibition.
Widespread crime and other problems caused by Prohibition mushroomed. More and more residents decided that the presumed cure was much worse than the disease. They called for Repeal.
Now, many decades later, Connecticut residents continue to suffer from the legacy of Prohibition-era thinking. Connecticut remains one of the very few states in the entire country that still prohibits Sunday alcohol sales. This is despite the fact that Sunday has become the second busiest shopping day of the week.
Perhaps residents will abolish one of the final vestiges of Prohibition in Connecticut.
Learn more about Prohibition in Connecticut
Brooks, C. Connecticut goes Dry: The Experience of the Temperance and Prohibition Movements in Connecticut, 1850-1933. Central Connecticut State U, 2006.
Cohn, H. and Davis, E. Connecticut and Rhode Island Reject the Prohibition Amendment, 2009.
Conway, K. The Early Temperance Movement in Connecticut. Central Connecticut State Coll, 1991.
Farnam, H. Confessions of a Prohibitionist. Hartford: Connecticut Federation of Churches, 1923.
Kehoe, T. History of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of Connecticut. New Britain: Kehoe, 1903.
Steuart, T. $100,000,000 Saved Connecticut in Three Dry Years. Westerville, OH: Ame Issue, c 1923.
WCTU of Connecticut. Connecticut Counselor. Putnam, CT: WCTU, 1953- (periodical).
White, R. Prohibition in Connecticut: a set of tables showing its effect on public health, order and general welfare. New Haven: Quinnipiack Press, 1930.