America in its early years was awash in alcohol. Indeed, when one reads some of the statistics and anecdotes, it is difficult not to believe that the Pilgrims had a more or less continuous buzz on, Cotton Mather was half in the bag while writing his sermons, and our nation’s founding documents were written while under the influence. This staggering level of consumption, and its social cost, eventually provoked an extreme reaction in the form of the Temperance movement’s outright rejection of alcohol.
First gaining steam in tandem with the religious revival of the 1820s and 1830s, Temperance waxed and waned for decades, with occasional triumphs such as Massachusetts’ 1838 ban on sales of small amounts of alcohol (repealed in 1840) and Maine’s Prohibition law of 1846 (repealed in 1858). The push for national Prohibition picked up steam with the 1893 founding of the Anti-Saloon League, which developed into the mightiest lobbying organization yet seen in America.
The Temperance movement culminated in the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919, and national Prohibition went into effect in early 1920. However, Prohibition’s wide unpopularity and fundamental unenforceability, and the election of the unapologetically “wet” Franklin Roosevelt to the Presidency led to its repeal in 1933.
Given the stakes, both proponents and opponents of Prohibition deployed all possible weapons to make their case, including the techniques of persuasive cartography. Offered here is a superb example, an extraordinarily rare poster promoting a Massachusetts “ Prohibition Week ” beginning September 21, 1914. Promoted by the Anti-Saloon League, the event involved rallies in hundreds of towns featuring movement leaders from around the country. The poster features “Wet and Dry” maps of the United States and Massachusetts (dry areas in white) surrounded by photographic portraits of leading Prohibition advocates. [see Globe 9/20/14, p. 36]