Suffragettes to Mobsters: Teetotaling with Miss Dolly on Prohibition’s 100th Anniversary

One hundred years ago today, on January 16, 1919, Prohibition was ratified. In an attempt to curb immorality, legislators put thousands of hard working Americans out of work — liquor and wine store owners, vintners, grape growers, truckers, bottling plant employees, etc. It ushered in an age where mobsters started controlling territories, flappers became the rage, bathtub gin and speakeasies ruled, and rumored bootleggers, like Joseph Kennedy  (father of President JFK), made fortunes.

Today’s teetotaling anniversary also inspired the video interview below with Miss Dolly, an English-emigre to the U.S. who started writing in her 90s and has published three books. Her Tales from the Teapot details her strong affection for tea. In this video, she explains what a real English Tea is and how it should be served.

Images about Prohibition usually invoke Carrie Nation, the famous suffragette,  who led bands of women into bars, smashing everything in sight while singing church hymns. Actually, the temperance movement was really driven by Christian males — especially since Carrie Nation died in 1911, eight years earlier. Still, in the early days, the temperance and suffrage movements were often intertwined. 

Both images courtesy of Library of Congress

To be fair, deaths related to alcohol, arrests and hospitalizations all declined in the first years after Prohibition became law. But those benefits didn’t last long. The thirst for alcohol created an underground society fed by criminal networks. The reports of gangs wielding sawed off shot guns and machine guns, nicknamed Tommy-guns, and St. Valentine’s Day massacres, terrorized the nation.

black rifle

Photo by Specna Arms on


Prohibition gave rise to heroes like Eliot Ness, whose U.S. Treasury Department squad, the “Untouchables” smashed more barrels of booze between the years of 1930 – 1932, than Carrie Nation ever saw. Ness cost Al Capone 9 million dollars and put him in jail for eleven years — for tax evasion on all that illegal booze. 

Prohibition vastly affected immigrants — those like my grandfather who made his own wine had to do so in secret, afraid of arrest for something people had done since the days of the Old Testament or give it up altogether. Immigrants who picked grapes, were now out of luck. Then, there were those who had risen in the world like the father of my friend, John. His father worked as a liquor salesman. His family went from prosperous to out of work in one stroke of the pen. Incredibly, my friend still has bottles unopened from his father’s collection a hundred years later that the man didn’t live to drink.

Luckily, Prohibition didn’t last forever. It lasted until 1933 and most of the United States went out and partied. Perhaps Prince should have written partied like 1933 instead of 1999. 😉

To celebrate this day of teetotaling, I hope you’ll take a cue from Miss Dolly and do it up right with a good cup of tea. Perhaps some of you might add a dollop of sherry … just because you can. 

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