World League Against Alcoholism: World-Wide Prohibition

The World League Against Alcoholism was established in 1919 by the Anti-Saloon League. It was spearheaded by the League’s Ernest Cherrington. He had a grand vision. It was on the eve of nation-wide prohibition in the U.S. The vision was to expand prohibition throughout the world.

Great Expectations

National Prohibition had seemed an impossible dream only a few decades earlier. Now that dream was coming true. The benefits of prohibition should be enjoyed by people around the world. In every country. In every place.

It was a timed of great optimism. Billy Sunday, the evangelist, had a mock funeral for ‘John Barleycorn.’ He preached on the benefits of prohibition. “The rein of tears is over,” he declared. “The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs”1  Many people thought that alcohol was the cause of crime. Now there would be no alcohol. So some towns sold their jails.

Temperance Movement Growing

world League Against Alcoholism
Ernest H. Cherrington

The temperance movement was strong and growing in dozens of countries. The benefits of  Prohibition in the U,S. would be enormous. The benefits of world-wide prohibition would be even greater. The momentum seemed unstoppable.

Ernest Cherrington of the Anti-Saloon League led the founding of the World League Against Alcoholism. The year it was formed it worked with dozens of temperance groups. They were in over 50 countries on six continents. The first international convention was held in 1923. There were attendees from 66 countries. The effort was clearly world-wide.

Cherrington Advocated Persuasion

Some people advocated strict enforcement of Prohibition. But Cherrington preferred education and persuasion. This is seen in the World League Against Alcoholism’s goals. First, “To educate mankind regarding alcohol, which s the  poisoning of body, germ-plasm, mind, conduct and society, produced by the consumption of alcoholic beverages.” Second, “To secure by legislation the suppression of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages throughout the world.”2 There was no mention of enforcement.

But a strong minority within the Anti-Saloon League thought that its effort would be better used elsewhere. Led by powerful Wayne Wheeler, it preferred strict enforcement of National Prohibition. It wanted to ensure that the U.S. was totally dry before embarking on a world crusade.

Ironically, success helped lead to failure.

The start of Prohibition caused a lower income for temperance groups. Supporters thought that the job was done. The Anti-Saloon League  soon faced financial problems. The bank it owned would fail. It could no longer support the World League Against Alcoholism. Cherrington found himself leading the World League with little income. The Depression would only make things much worse. The World League soon failed. It no longer exists. The Anti-Saloon League became a shadow of its former self. A remnant of it exists today It’s now called the American Council on Alcohol Problems.

The name of the World League can be misleading today. At the time it was not. The League was not trying to prevent alcoholism. It was trying to prevent drinking. But temperance activists tended to see them as being the same. They often used the words interchangeably.

  1. Asbury, H. The Great Illusion. NY: Greenwood, 1968, pp. 144-145.
  2. World League Against Alcoholism. Scien. Temp J., 1919, 28(3), pp. 155-156.