Domesticating drink: Women and alcohol in prohibition America, 1870-1940

Catherine Gilbert Murdock, University of Pennsylvania


Alcohol in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was one of the most divisive issues confronting America, a subject on which women staked their decency and men their political careers. The passage and later repeal of a constitutional amendment prohibiting alcohol mark the fault line between the cultures of Victorian and modern America, between the ethos of self-restraint and the exuberance of consumerism. For many scholars prohibition also represents a potent strain of Progressivism. Alcohol is thus an excellent vehicle--a solution, as it were--through which to interpret these extraordinary changes in values and behavior. Womanhood in the nineteenth century was represented by the powerful Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). But by the late 1920s women's drinking in many parts of the country was condoned, even expected--women's drinking in fact remains a Jazz-Age icon. Moreover, the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), founded in 1929, proved to be the country's most popular repeal group. It permanently dismantled the myth of women as a united, virtuous voting bloc. In a generation, it seemed, woman evolved from man's moral guardian into his drinking companion. "Domesticating Drink" examines the relationship between women and alcohol in the decades surrounding prohibition. Part One considers alcohol in women's politics: the WCTU's channeling of female outrage; the relation of prohibition to woman suffrage and to 1920s feminism. Utilizing etiquette and cooking manuals, fiction, and glassware. Part Two examines drinking, including the threat that women's drinking posed to the WCTU, and the shift in American values in the twentieth century. Part Three focuses on the years 1920 to 1933, the campaigns to pass and later to repeal a law against alcohol. The replacement of the all-male saloon with the mixed-sex speakeasy and bar, and the integration of drinking rituals such as cocktail parties into the home, indicates more than the domestication of drink. On a fundamental level it speaks of the elimination of a masculine subculture, based on exclusivity, inebriety, and violence, within the United States.

Subject Area

American studies|American history|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert, "Domesticating drink: Women and alcohol in prohibition America, 1870-1940" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9532250.