Prohibition in Virginia: Yes, Virginia, Prohibition was a Disaster

Prohibition in Virginia has a long tradition. So many Virginians were opposed to alcohol that they had established state-wide prohibition in 1914. This was well before the country followed suit in 1920.  

There was a strong belief in the state that Prohibition would be highly beneficial. That it would lead to less crime, better health, and higher morality. That it would reduce violence, increase prosperity, and protect women, children, and the family. Unfortunately, reality would prove otherwise.

Those residents who chose to continue drinking instantly became criminals. Those who chose to satisfy the brisk demand for alcohol were also criminals.

prohibition in Virginia
Prohibition in Virginia was a disappointing disaster.

Illegal producers and sellers of alcohol generally had to bribe law officials and others in order to operate. It was a business expense. But not a deductible one. That’s because now all profits from alcohol were unreported illegal income. This deprived the state of much-needed taxes.

As knowledge of corruption spread, respect for law declined. Drinking  became an easy way to rebel. It spread quickly across college campuses.

Prohibition also promoted a dangerous drinking pattern. That’s drinking less often but much more heavily. People didn’t go to a speakeasy to savor a drink leisurely over a meal. They went to guzzle it quickly while it was available. For the first time in history, drinking became fashionable among women.

Moonshiners carelessly made their products which sometimes had lead toxins. They often added creosote was for color. They might add embalming fluid for extra strength.  Consumers sometimes had paralysis, blindness or even painful death.

It became painfully clear that Prohibition didn’t decrease crime but increased it. Didn’t lead to better health but sometimes led to death. It didn’t raise morality but to lowered it. Didn’t protect young people but threatened their well-being.

Virginians realized that Prohibition didn’t work. But worse, that it was actually counterproductive. It was worse than doing nothing. They voted by a 63 percent margin for Repeal.

Learn more about Prohibition in Virginia

Byrd, H.F. The Byrd Prohibition Plan.  Richmond: Virginia Byrd Committee, 1932.

Hall, A.L. The Prohibition Movement in Virginia, 1826-1916.  U Virginia 1964.

Hawes, H.B. Prohibition Index-manual, Virginia and West Virginia.  Charlottesville, VA: Michie, 1930.

Shibley, R.E. G. Walter Mapp: Politics and Prohibition in Virginia, 1873-1941.  U Virginia 1966.