There were many Prohibition leaders and they all had different personalities. Biographies usually tell us when and where they were born along with their education, experience and accomplishments.
But what were the Prohibition leaders really like? Would they have been interesting to chat with over a beer (root beer, of course)? Were they approachable or reclusive? Conceited or modest? Were they happy or dour? Did they have varied interests or were they workaholics? Did they like dogs and children?
Here we take a look at the some of the Prohibition leaders and their personalities. You can decide which ones you would liked to have joined for a root beer.
The combative Anderson was known as the ‘dry warrior.’ To achieve his goals, he used such aggressive tactics as intimidation, character attacks, false rumors, and forged documents. Being opposed by him could ‘make your blood run cold and your hair stand up’ reported one victim.1
Anderson verbally attacked Jews, Irish, Italians and others whose cultures generally included drinking alcohol. Catholics were a special target of Anderson’s bigotry.
In 1924, Anderson was charged with grand larceny, forgery and extortion. He was convicted and sentenced to two years in the maximum security penitentiary at Sing Sing.
As head of the Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals Bishop James Cannon was one of the most powerful of all Prohibition leaders in the U.S.
Bishop Cannon despised Catholicism. He called the Catholic Church ‘The mother of ignorance, superstition, intolerance, and sin.’2 He was also anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant.
It was discovered that Cannon had been involved in shady or illegal stock market manipulations with a corrupt firm. Next, it was reported that he illegally used church funds for political purposes. His illegal wartime hoarding of flour, which he later sold at a large profit, emerged.
It Got Worse
It seemed it couldn’t get any worse. Then newspapers published letters between Cannon and his secretary. They proved they were having a sexual affair while his wife was ill. These scandals destroyed his reputation and power.
What about chatting with Cannon over root beers? Well, in addition to his bigotry, one biographer described him as an unpleasant and deceitful person. Cannon was considered very distant and aloof. A colleague described him as ‘cold as a snake.’ Another, with whom he had worked closely for forty years, reported having never seen him laugh and rarely smile.
That root beer idea doesn’t sound so great, does it?
Henry Cogswell was an eccentric dentist. He made a fortune investing in real estate and mining stocks. Cogswell had the quaintly naive belief that if people had water available to drink, they would prefer it to alcohol.
He decided to build water fountains across the U.S. But he had no architectural training, no art training, and, it would appear, no taste. The fountains were generally not well-received. One was torn down by a mob of art lovers and another was thrown into a lake. One in Washington, DC, has been called ‘the city’s ugliest statue.’ 3 Cogwell’s fountains reportedly led cities to screen such gifts before accepting them.
It might have been interesting to chat with Henry Cogswell over glasses of water from one of his fountains.
Longtime leader of the Prohibition Party, Earl F. Dodge, was unseated as chair of the Party in 2004. He allegedly stole property, was dishonest with members, misused Party funds, and wouldn’t share financial information with the Party treasurer. In defending some of his actions, he said in court that he was a kleptomaniac.
Dodge had held an invitation-only meeting at his home and then claimed that it was the lawful nominating convention of the Prohibition Party. He was unseated at a later public meeting called by the Prohibition National Committee.
From obituaries, it appears that Earl Dodge had been a man with a magnetic personality. Perhaps root beers would have been in order. But it might have been wise to watch your wallet.
Hiram Wesley Evans was a staunch supporter and defender of Prohibition. He was also leader of the ‘second’ Ku Klux Klan (KKK) from 1922 until 1939.
Need any more be said? Let’s skip the get-together!
By all accounts Richmond Pearson Hobson was
“chilly and reserved. Someone who knew him as a boy in the Alabama cotton country, where Hobson had been born in 1870, remembered him as ‘˜gravefaced. His manner was stiff and formal; his conversation, almost comically stilted.’ When he entered the United States Naval Academy, he quickly became a pariah by conscientiously reporting the misdemeanors of his classmates. Only one man is said to have spoken with him for two entire years. But when his fellow midshipmen offered to make it up, Hobson refused; he had, he said, gotten along perfectly well without them.’4
Enough said. Cross him off.
Mary Hunt was one of the major Prohibition leaders. But she had a big secret. Hunt had made legal arrangements to conceal the fact that she was getting a high income from her supposedly voluntary work promoting Scientific Temperance Instruction.
It was Mary Hunt alone who decided whether or not textbooks would be endorsed by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Without that approval, there was no market for them. In her position of power, she amassed a substantial fortune.
A prominent committee evaluated Scientific Temperance Instruction. It noted “the efforts of the ‘scientific temperance’ people to secure the dismissal of state employees suspected of not being sufficiently in sympathy with their own extreme views.'”5
Ms. Hunt also ‘pushed the editor of a temperance newspaper to investigate those opposed’ to Scientific Temperance Instruction.6 It was dangerous to disagree with Mary Hunt and her many deeply committed followers.
Forget the root beer?
William E. Johnson was better known as ‘Pussyfoot Johnson.’ Pussyfoot created many pro-Prohibition tactics. For example, he wrote to wet (anti-Prohibition) leaders, claiming to be a brewer. Pussyfoot asked them for advice on how to fight temperance activists. He then published the incriminating letters he received.
Johnson was proud of his dishonesty. “Did I ever lie to promote prohibition? Decidedly yes. I have told enough lies for the cause to make Ananias ashamed of himself.’ He wrote that in an article titled “I had to lie, bribe and drink to put over prohibition in America.”7 (Ananias was a notorious liar in the New Testament.)
It might have been interesting to talk with Pussyfoot about his many exciting adventures. But could you have believed what he told you?
Diocletian Lewis was known as Dr. Dio Lewis. He was a temperance leader, preacher, feminist, social reformer, and food/health faddist. Many considered him to be an eccentric. Lewis used the title Doctor and sometimes illegally practiced medicine, although he only had a certificate in homeopathic studies. Nevertheless, he used his fraudulent title and oratorical gift to good effect in promoting temperance.
“Dr.” Dio Lewis apparently led an interesting life. It might have been fun to have talked with him. But it would have been wise to decline any offer of medical help.
WCTU leader Carry Nation was a strong-willed and domineering person. Her husband was a minister. When she decided his sermon was long enough, she might step into the aisle and say ‘That will be about all for today, David!’ Sometimes he would fail to quit speaking. Then she would walk to the pulpit, shut his Bible, hand him his hat and tell him to go home.8
Nation is best known for her “hatchetation” destruction of saloons, drug stores or other places that sold alcohol. Even when they did so legally.
The anti-Semitic Carry’s various views subjected her to ridicule. She strongly opposed ‘lustful’ marriage, fraternal orders, tobacco, foreign foods, fine clothing, corsets, and skirts of ‘improper length.’ She grabbed cigarettes and cigars from smokers and ridiculed well-dressed people.9 It did not help that she applauded the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. That’s was because she believed that he secretly drank and that drinkers always got what they deserved.10
A radical feminist, Carry Nation was also a sexist. She insisted that ‘Men are nicotine-soaked, beer-besmirched, whiskey-greased, red-eyed devils.’11
It might have been interesting to visit with the controversial Carry Nation. So long as you weren’t a man, a smoker, a drinker, well-dressed, or had sex within your marriage.
Robert P. Shuler holds the record for the highest vote ever received by any candidate on the Prohibition Party ticket. In 1932 he ran for US Senate from California. Shuler received 560,088 votes (25.8%). He carried both Orange and Riverside counties. After his defeat, Rev. Shuler ‘placed an awful curse’ on Southern California.
‘Fightin” Bob Shuler owned radio station KGFF from 1926 to 1932. The call letters stood for Keep God Forever First. He lost its license for his controversial broadcasts. On them he attacked Catholics, Jews, African-Americans, and the Hollywood elite for drinking. He considered them dishonest, corrupt, and immoral.
Shall it be thumbs down?
Clarence True Wilson ranked along with Wayne Wheeler and Bishop James Cannon, Jr., as one of the most powerful Prohibition leaders leader in the U.S. In campaigning for National Prohibition, Wilson ‘sounded the alarm that German Jews had taken control of the liquor traffic.’ After it went into effect, he argued that bootleggers should be killed. He wrote a piece titled ‘The only good bootlegger is a dead bootlegger.’ It ended with his assertion that ”a bootlegger is worth a lot more to the country dead than alive.’ One report called it ‘an invitation to kill.’12
Wilson also argued that the government should poison alcoholic beverages. He said that only those who broke the law by drinking would be killed from the poison. There appeared to have been no Christian love, forgiveness, or compassion in this church leader.
By his words and actions, Wilson was ant-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant. Wilson often expressed bizarre ideas. He said the liquor industry was ‘importing’ European immigrants to the U.S. to be bootleggers. Actually, the U.S. had plenty of home-grown bootleggers.
Wilson also promoted the theory that Lincoln’s assassin did not die after killing the President. He said that John Wilkes Booth escaped and lived until 1903. He spent $12,000 on this idea. That was a lot of money back then. He even wrote a book about the theory and had it published by a vanity press.
It might have been interesting to have chatted with Wilson about the John Wilkes Booth theory.
One of the most powerful of the Prohibition leaders was Wayne Wheeler. He had long been the de facto head of the Anti-Saloon League. He tended to present his views as the views of the League. Even when the League had either no view or a different view.
Wheeler was a true workaholic. He often ignored holidays, including Christmas and Easter. And he expected others to do the same. He had a wife and three children.
Yet everything in life, including his family, was subordinate to his prohibition work. Even on their 50th wedding anniversary, Wheeler left his wife alone. That was so he could travel to participate in a debate on Prohibition.
Wheeler insisted that Prohibition enforcement should be vigorous and strict. He was a proponent of force, and ‘he desired the most severe penalties, the most aggressive policies even to calling out the Army and navy, the most relentless prosecution.’13
The Prohibition Bureau added poisons to industrial alcohol to prevent its us as a beverage. Wheeler opposed the use of nonpoisonous substances to make the alcohol undrinkable. He insisted that “the government is under no obligation to furnish people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol ‘is a deliberate suicide.’”14
By 1926, Wheeler was being criticized by members of Congress. They thought he was illegally using Anti-Saloon League funds for political purposes. Soon he retired and died shortly thereafter.
After his death, League members criticized Wheeler’s work with avowed racial and religious bigots and groups. With his advocacy of illegal actions in enforcing prohibition. With his deceptive practice of writing self-aggrandizing articles that he asked others to publish as their own. And with his caustic, alienating personality.
Even if you had wanted to meet with Wheeler over root beers, he probably would have declined. He might have preferred to do more “important” things. Sorry.
Fortunately, not all Prohibition leaders were bigots or were involved in sexual, financial, or other scandals. But many were. And that tended to discredit, however unfairly, the temperance movement.
Dabney, V. Dry Messiah: the Life of Bishop Cannon. NY: Knopf, 1949.
Earl Dodge, 74, Prohibition Presidential Candidate. New York Times, Nov 10, 2007.
Hanson, D. Wayne Bidwell Wheeler. In: Garraty, J. and Cames, M. (Eds.) American National Biography, NY: Praeger, 1999, vol, 23, pp. 144-145.
Hohner, R. Prohibition and Politics. The Life of Bishop James Cannon, Jr. Columbia: U. South Carolina Press, 1999.
Mezvinsky, N. Scientific temperance instruction in the schools. Hist Ed Q, 1961, 7, p. 49.
Ohles, J. The imprimatur of Mary H. H. Hunt. J School Health, 1978, 48, 477
Snow, R. Richmond Pearson Hobson. Am Heritage Mag, 1979, 30(5), Am Char sect.
W.E Johnson dies; dry crusader, 82. New York Times, Feb 3, 1945, p. 11.
1 Lerner, M. Dry Manhattan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 2009, p. 17.
2 Burns, E. Spirits of America. Philadelphia: Temple U. Press, 2004, p. 177.
3 Kitsock, G. All’s well that ends with a drink to Cogswell. Wash City Paper, March 6, 1992.
4 Snow, R. Richmond Pearson Hobson. Am Heritage Mag, 1979, 30(5), Am Char sect.
5 Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. NY: Pumam’s Sons, 1965, pp. 193-194.
6 Sheehan, N. The WCTU and educational strategies on the canadian prairie. Hist Ed Q, 1984, 24, p. 104.
7 Johnson, W. I had to lie, bribe and drink to put over prohibition in America. Hearst’s Internat-Cosmo, 1926 (May).
8 Carry Nation Organization.
9 ______, ibib.
10 Maxey, A. A Bulldog for Jesus.
12 The only good bootlegger is a dead bootlegger. World Digest of Reform News. Also see An Invitation to Kill. Drug Trade Weekly. Nov 12, 1921, p. 4.
13 Steuart, J. and Dinwiddle, E. Wayne Wheeler, Dry Boss. An Uncensored Biography of Wayne B. Wheeler. NY: Revell, 1928, p. 14.
14 Asbury, H. The Great Illusion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950, p. 279.