Purley Baker was a leading temperance and Prohibition leader. He was born in Ohio in 1858 and died in 1924nduring National Prohibition (1920-1933). Prohibition was part of the Progressive Movement.
Rev. Baker was an ordained Methodist minister. He became well-known for strongly opposing alcohol and saloons. Perhaps because of that fact, Howard Hyde Russell, the head of the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) hired him. It was to work for the Ohio ASL. After only a year Baker became head of the state ASL.
The national ASL picked Baker to head it in 1903. He argued that the “yeomen” of the country were natural allies in the struggle against the saloon. He said they “need only to be reached to be won.”
Purley Baker also thought that he could win the support of industrialists for Prohibition. To do so, he stressed that sober workers are more reliable and efficient. Thus, Prohibition would be good for business.
In 1908, Baker established the League’s Industrial Relations Department. It was under the direction of S. S. Kresge, the dime store tycoon.
The League also built a large printing plant for its campaign. A major part of this was to demonize alcohol producers. For instance, most brewers were of German descent. So Baker said that Germans “eat like gluttons and drink like swine.”1
Baker was hostile to Jews, Italians and any other group whose tradition included alcohol. Indeed, many other temperance leaders were as well.
In fact, many temperance leaders were also members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). That’s because the KKK was a major supporter and defender of Prohibition.
The ASL had a parade to the steps of the US Capitol in 1913. There Baker presented two dry congressmen copies of a proposed 18th amendment. The goal was to bring about National Prohibition. He had drafted it with Wayne Wheeler, Bishop James Cannon, and other leaders of the League.
Following Baker’s death in 1924, there was a power struggle. With Wayne Wheeler’s help, Francis Scott McBride emerged the winner.
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Resources: Purley Baker
Facts about Baker
Purley Baker was in the lyrics of the Grateful Dead’s “Wharf Rat.”
Rev. Baker owned a house on Temperance Row in Westerville, Ohio. The Row is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1930, the Westerville Public Library opened in the former home of Baker.
Rev. Baker is entombed in a large crypt in Westerville.
By Purley Baker
A Statement Refuting Falsehoods and Reciting Facts. Westerville, OH: Am. Issue, 1911.
1. Ellis, M. German-Americans in World War I. In: Fiebig-von Hase, R., and Lehmkuhl, U. (eds.) Enemy Images in American History. Oxford: Berghahn, 1997. Pp 183-208.
Cashman, S. Prohibition: the Lie of the Land. New York: Collier, 1981.
Chalfant, H. These Agitators and Their Ideas. Nashville: Cokesbury, 1931. Includes a section on Purley Baker
Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Putnam’s, 1973.
Lerner, M. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge: Harvard U Press, 2007.
Rumbarger, J. Profits, Power, and Prohibition. Albany, NY: SUNY, 1989.