“Don’t Buy Booze”

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, May 16, 1914:  Same as yesterday.

Milton Evening Standard (April 9, 1914)

Milton Evening Standard (April 9, 1914)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since not much was happening at the Muffly house, I’ll share an intriguing 1914 article from Grandma’s local paper, the Milton Evening Standard. I’m not quite sure what to make of the article, but it’s definitely thought-provoking.

Prohibition in the US began in 1920 when the 18th amendment went into effect—but, as this article indicates, there was a strong movement against alcohol in preceding years.

The article is about the town of Mount Carmel. Grandma lived in the northwestern part of Northumberland County. Mount Carmel is at the eastern edge of the county, and was in the heart of the anthracite coal region.

24 Responses

  1. When I learned this stuff in class it wasn’t nearly as interesting as thinking of it now through the lens of family history and thinking of how those goings on intersected with the lives of my family alive at that time. Does that make sense?

    • Yes, it makes perfect sense to me. The times that our ancestors grew up in affected their lives, their beliefs, and the stories they told.

  2. That IS an interesting article…..especially to read of excursions being cancelled due to scarlet fever.

  3. A really interesting glimpse into one of the fascinating historical movements – temperance was not successful but attracted passionate followers. Thanks for the article!

  4. Turning hoses on children? Arresting protestors for being out after curfew? Using children to advance adult causes? Sigh–interesting times.

    • I also found it really interesting how the advocates used children to do the actual protests. It made me wonder about the dynamics in the homes. And, I started asking myself questions like: Were the children’s fathers in the saloons? If so, were they angry when they got home?

  5. Amazing that kids were used to shame the drinkers. Maybe drinking was more of a problem in those days than we suppose.

    • I think that the issues were more gender-based back then. Men tended to drink in saloons–and women, if they drank, drank at home.

  6. Most qualities of human nature have not changed forever. What changes are the causes and tools used to further or fight.

    Interesting article.

  7. Enough to make you buy a bottle and drink at home. I wonder if all those saloon keepers really went looking for jobs in the mines.

    • A longer-term analysis of the financial situation of saloon owners in the years leading up to prohibition would make an interesting study. :)

  8. The news clipping is a nice memoir from that era. It makes me recall Ken Burn’s excellent PBS series on prohibition – I heartily recumbent it for anyone who didn’t see it. It can be rented on DVD.

    I also recall that newspapers in that day were different from what we’ve grown up with. I first realized this when I was researching our genealogy a few years ago. There were few journalistic standards. Papers were full of errors, misspellings and obvious unsubstantiated gossip (read, rumors).

    In the case of the clip here, it is easy to see the reflection of public opinion rising for prohibition, which was likely the most spectacular failure of any social experiment in the nation’s history. It was supported by the wealthy as well. I recall that one rich lady in Baltimore who was in the forefront of the movement was found to have laid in a 10 year supply for herself in her basement before the law took effect.

    • Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to look for the series.

      I must admit that that I enjoy these old paper–errors, misspellings, gossip, and all. :)

  9. I also saw Ken Burns series on prohibition and highly recommend it. The newspaper article is very interesting.

  10. This is a fascinating entry! It’s a reminder for me to include the prohibition era in “My Father’s House” (my fictionalized biography of my father.) I’m interested in the reference to a saloon being owned by a foreigner. Do you suppose he meant a non-citizen, or someone seen as being foreign because he (I suppose) was not native-born.

    It’s also interesting being in a position now to look back on the history of the evils that came of this effort to impose morality.

    One wonders how much our current efforts to establish “moral” laws will affect the future, positively or negatively. And isn’t the use of children interesting? – along with the conflict of how to handle the breaking of the curfew.

    Thanks for this

    • Many people from the Baltic and Slavic countries came to Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines. My guess is that the saloon owner was born in one of those countries.

      Northumberland County is an “L” shaped county with the western part an agricultural area along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River; and eastern part (the foot of the “L”) a coal mining area. There has always been a lot of tension between the two areas. The newspaper was from Milton, which is in the western part of the country. My sense is that the author was trying to convey his opinion that people in the western part of the county were somehow superior to the “foreigner” who ran the saloon. . . sigh. . .Why can’t people see how similar we all are?

  11. haha I kind of like the spunk of the lady that took a hose to the kids!
    Diana xo

  12. Interesting story. Reminds of a paper I have and need to find again. I can’t even remember the year but it was well before 1920, I’m sure. It’s a temperance pledge that people were asked to sign and agree to abstain from drinking alcohol. Guess it’s always been a problem!

  13. Ooops, I’d be in trouble. I’m currently enjoying a nice chilled glass of Proseco. Interesting times south of the boarder. I don’t think we ever had much of it going on up here. especially in the early years of Edmonton. It was like the wild west out here. I think boozing was part of breaking in the frontier.

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