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Alton Prohibition Stories - Part 3

By Ann Davidson, Genealogy & Local History Volunteer

Prohibition 7

Alton Evening Telegraph, April 8, 1914

Wets v. Drys

A storm was brewing between the “wets” and the “drys” across the nation. The drys began to push for passage of laws to stem the tide of alcohol inundating their communities. Altonians turned out at the Temple Theater and local churches to hear speakers from both sides make their cases, pro and con.

In the first decade of the 20th century, Illinois passed a “local option” bill that gave communities the right to vote to stay “wet” or go “dry.” In 1908, Alton voted to stay wet when 4,040 men cast their votes with 75 percent wets topping 25 percent drys.18 Upper Alton precincts held a tremendous majority of the drys, while the downtown precincts voted wet. Drinkers breathed a sigh of relief.

Since 1850, American women had been seeking the right to vote. The women’s suffrage and temperance movements often went hand-in-hand, reaching a peak of intensity in the early 1900s. Illinois women gained the vote in 1913. One of the leading issues was prohibition. Check out the previous blog posts on Alton Women at the Polls here and here.

Alton women voted for the first time in 1914 and turned out in huge numbers. They cast 4,191 ballots, doubling the number of voters compared to 1908. The women voted 57 percent to 43 percent to go dry. Even with the women’s vote, Alton voted 54 percent to 46 percent to stay wet again, this time by a closer margin of 800 votes, compared to nearly 2,300 in 1908. The Telegraph reported the results by gender (see below). Drinkers breathed a sigh of relief again. Drys redoubled their resolve. (Interestingly, today there are more drinking establishments in downtown Alton than Upper Alton, reflecting the public disposition of a century ago.)

Wet and dry factions worked furiously to influence the local option vote in April 1916. Large crowds assembled to hear speakers expound on their views from both sides. The Telegraph advertised meetings in the “Dry Auditorium” at Third and Market, the Temple Theater, and numerous churches across the city. Once again the wets prevailed. They celebrated by hiring a band to march around downtown and play. One of their stops was right in front of the Telegraph on Broadway, where they played “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” The wets triumphed again in 1918.

Grafton Dries Out

In 1914, Grafton went dry for the first time in its history by 54 percent dry to 46 percent wet.19 Voting for the first time, two-thirds of Grafton women voted dry and closed the saloons. The Telegraph reported, “Saloons have flourished in Grafton since the beginning of the town some fifty or sixty years ago. At one time when more than 1,000 men were employed in the quarries there, nineteen saloons were doing business on the main street of the town, and all were getting a good amount of trade. Later as the number of quarry workers was decreased, the saloons also decreased in number, and at present there are but three, and they will cease business on May 7, according to yesterday’s election.” For drinkers, the proverbial writing was on the wall.

Prohibition 8

18. “Alton Votes Wet, But the Gap is Narrowed to 800,” Alton Evening Telegraph, April 8, 1914, p. 1.
19. “Drys Gain Victory in Grafton,” Alton Evening Telegraph, April 8, 1914, p. 1.

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