December 4, 2008 / 6:32 PM / 10 years ago

Repeal of Prohibition not cause to celebrate for everyone

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Bars, breweries and beverage companies across the United States plan to mark the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition on Friday but not everyone will be celebrating.

The Back Room, a historic speakeasy in Manhattan, will create martinis with “bathtub” gin on the day. Boston’s Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks will be serving Prohibition-era cocktails, including the Income Tax, a mix of gin, vermouth, Angostura bitters and orange juice, though not at Prohibition-era prices.

And in San Francisco they will celebrate the end of the country’s dry spell, when the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages was banned, with a parade along Market Street ending in a beer festival at the 21st Amendment Brewery.

But the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) will not be lifting their glasses to toast the occasion.

“The WCTU does not really plan to have any special observance this Friday,” said Rita Wort, the president of the national organization founded in 1874 that spearheaded the fight to ban alcohol in the United States during the early part of the 20th Century.

“We believe today that it will need to be a personal choice by individuals to observe and hold fast to a personal prohibition or total abstinence for living,” she added in an interview.

From 1920 until its repeal in 1933, the 18th Amendment banned the manufacture, sale and distribution of intoxicating liquor nationwide. There were some exceptions to what was called the Noble Experiment — for sacramental wines and home-made brews — but it put a stopper in wine and liquor industry.

Thought by its supporters to cure the social ills of husbands spending the rent money in saloons, as well as preventing work-place accidents and cutting crime, prohibition gave rise to speakeasies, the Jazz Age and gangsters like Chicago’s Al Capone.

The gangsters would smuggle rum from the Caribbean, whiskies from Canada and operate private stills and private clubs or speakeasies.

Despite the repeal three-quarters of a century ago, Wort believes it was a worthwhile effort that had many benefits.

“We do not, however, think that Prohibition was a failure as does most of the rest of the world,” she explained.

Some of the benefits she cited were studies published in the 1960s that showed wife beating and the lack of family support dropped by 82 percent, drunkenness was down 55.3 percent and assault decreased 53.1 percent while Prohibition laws were in effect.

The WCTU, which describes itself as the oldest voluntary, non-sectarian woman’s organization in continuous existence in the world, has affiliates in Australia, Germany and Norway. It works to educate the public about the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is credited with leading the United States out of the Great Depression, is reported to have said upon signing the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealing Prohibition, “I believe this would be a good time for a beer.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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