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American Prohibition Essay

2223 words - 9 pages

The Volstead Act and the 18th amendment proved to transform almost all upstanding Victorian Era American citizens—regardless of gender, race, or age—into criminals, and created a new liquid gold rush for the intelligent gangsters of the era to hit rich. Although these laws sought to give the government more judicial power, it turned hoodlums into politicians and politicians into hoodlums and replaced Capitol Hill with the racketed streets of America's cities. Prohibition in America heavily increased the amount of alcohol consumption and brought new participants into the drinking circle. Just as drinking increased, so too did crime; the saboteurs of the Volstead Act found ways to game the ...view middle of the document...

San Francisco in 1890; for example, had 3,000 registered saloons—1 for every 96 people living in the city—and a staggering 2,000 others that were believed to distribute alcohol unregistered.3 Saloons everywhere were dominated by men, and brought havoc on the wives and children of their patrons, causing rampant poverty and domestic abuse among American communities.4 For the working man, these abundant saloons were a place of solace, with some of the only public bathrooms and washrooms around, often serving free lunch to alcohol buying customers who usually worked close by, and most importantly, a place for social activity where brutish men could enjoy their free time away from women.5 However, women wouldn’t dare set foot in a saloon; thus they were down a recreational activity and bombarded with violence after their drunk husbands returned home. This was one of the major pushes for Prohibition as women were often subjected to violence by intoxicated men.
Given the social revolution of the early 1900s and the new youth culture in conjunction with the 18th amendment, the transition of the saloon and the tavern to the speakeasy was radical. Drinking became a more diverse activity, and of course, consumption continued its upward trend and was heightened to new extremes. When the Volstead Act permeated the thick skin of America, saloons weren’t closed down, they were merely converted into highly profitable and far more fun establishments known as speakeasies. The speakeasy carried with it new social norms, but it couldn’t have done it alone. Change came not only from Prohibition but also that it was perfectly timed with the social revolution of the early 1900s. A woman of the Prohibition era lacked many of her Victorian predecessors inhibitions, and was characteristically seen as a young, middle-class, sexual, drug abusing, working woman. This modern woman was know as a “flapper” or “sheba,” and dressed and acted to counteract the aspects of the American culture that had historically restricted women. Her male counterpart, “the sheik,” was the same way; known for breaking rules and social stigmas surrounding concepts such as purity and conservativeness. Sheiks and shebas had no trouble having fun. These young people were influenced by the grandiose new technologies such as the Model-T which aided their freedom, and the explosion of new media such as movies. For example the slang terms “sheik” and “sheba” originated in the 1921 movie “The Sheik,” and 66% of the 115 films that opened in 1929 depicted illegal drinking, often with women involved.6 With all the pressures of the changing world around them, youth “consciously forg[ed] their own set of behavioral and moral codes” and parents too didn’t want to be left behind in the old fashion, so they transformed as their children did.7
When the 18th amendment made alcohol illegal, this new youthful culture was a great partner in crime.  An excerpt from the pamphlet Why American Mothers Demand Repeal...

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