Purley Baker (Prohibition Leader & Anti-Saloon League Head)

Purley Baker was a leading temperance and Prohibition leader. He was born in Ohio in 1858 and died during National Prohibition (1920-1933) in 1924. Prohibition was part of the Progressive Movement.

Anti-Saloon League

Purley Baker
Purley Baker

Rev. Baker was an ordained Methodist minister who 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 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. In that role 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 believed 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.

S.S. Kresge

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 the League’s propaganda campaign. A major part of this was to demonize alcohol producers. For example, most brewers were German-Americans. Therefore, Baker said that Germans “eat like gluttons and drink like swine.”1

Prejudice

Purley Baker
KKK supported Prohibition

Many other temperance leaders were also hostile to Jews, Italians and any other group whose traditions included alcohol. 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.

Resources: Purley Baker

Facts about Baker

  • Purley Baker is 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.

Reference

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.

Readings

By Purley Baker

A Statement Refuting Falsehoods and Reciting Facts. Westerville, OH: Am. Issue, 1911.