CRUSADE AGAINST SHAMELESS VICE screamed the Times Union headline on Monday, November 26, 1900. The Anti-Saloon League mounted a unified attack on drinking, organizing twenty rousing brimfire sermons in as many churches on the same Sunday.
The appeals were not directed at saloons, or drunks, but at legislation, condemning Sunday hours, sales to minors, and “the conduct of immoral dance halls.” They advocated a curfew which would force everyone under age sixteen off the street by 9 p.m. in the summer, 8 p.m. in the winter, unless accompanied by an adult.
It’s interesting (to me, at least) how then, as today, those who suspected others might be having entirely too much fun used the potential moral corruption of children as a cudgel to impose their views on society as a whole.
“The Anti-Saloon League was the leading organization lobbying for prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century. It was a key component of the Progressive Era, and was strongest in the South and rural North, drawing heavy support from pietistic Protestant ministers and their congregations, especially Methodists, Baptists, Disciples and Congregationalists. It concentrated on legislation, and cared about how legislators voted, not whether they drank or not. Founded as a state society in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1893, its influence spread rapidly. In 1895, it became a national organization and quickly rose to become the most powerful prohibition lobby in America, pushing aside its older competitors the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition Party. The League was the first modern pressure group organized around one issue. Unlike earlier popular movements, it utilized bureaucratic methods learned from business to build a strong organization. Its triumph was nationwide prohibition locked into the Constitution with passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920. It was decisively defeated when Prohibition was repealed in 1933.”
Here’s an excerpt from one preacher’s sermon:
“One must be blind indeed who cannot see Vice trampling herself in all her wantonness in some of the streets of Albany. In the name of God, I ask why must these blots of iniquity, these cancerous sores, on the fair name of our city be tolerated. Why should young vice run rampant dragging down young men and women; yes, and I can add , with truth, girls of tender years? And why is it allowed to do its hellish work? And why of the guardians of the peace and the sworn protectors of the innocent complacently look on? May Jehovah apply the whip of activity upon their lazy consciences until they arise and do their duty.”
VICE OPENLY PRACTICED
“I have not been in Albany many months, neither have I gone slumming. One does not have to. If you do not believe me, go out after the lights are turned on, walk through Hamilton Street between South Pearl street and Broadway, then take in Broadway, and you will find enough to fill your soul with horror at the appalling state of affairs.
“It does seem to me if Christ should walk through some of the streets of Albany He would use the words of the text ‘Because iniquities shall abound – many shall wax cold.’
“Iniquity is abounding, flinging herself into the very faces of the respectable people of Albany and laughing at their credulity, while reaching out a devilish hand and grasping the children and dragging them down into vice and sin.”
Rev. Dr. Radcliffe of Poughkeepsie told the people in St. Luke’s Methodist church that when he came out of the Arcade Sunday morning he saw one of the most disgraceful sights he had ever witnessed. Two young men and a girl about 16 years of age, reeling up the street beastly intoxicated. Continuing he said: “You people think Albany is a closed city. Well, I think it is pretty nearly as bad as New York. I have only been in Albany since 6 o’clock this morning and I have seen a number of violations of the law. I believe the saloons of this country are the very mouths of hell. I believe more women are ruined, more young men driven to despair and degradation through the saloons than through any other cause. I believe if the saloons were closed we would have far less criminals. Is our American Sabbath to be undermined by the saloon? Homes are being wrecked and lives are being blighted by it. The Anti-Saloon league says that our Sabbath must be protected as also must be the church and the home. The time has come when the saloon must go. The Anti-Saloon league is non-partisan. It asks no man to leave his party, but it does say to every man, ‘Help make your party better by your presence in it.’ During the past few years some of the officials of our cities owe their elections to office to the brewers and the saloonkeepers. The Anti-Saloon league says that the time has now come to call a halt and instead of selecting our men for office from the friends of the saloonkeepers and the brewers, let us take them from the churches, the Y.M.C.A.’s, etc and then I believe we will have better laws and better law makers.”
PS. The superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League in New York State was William H. Anderson. In 1924 a jury convicted him of skimming contributions to the League and he was remanded to Sing Sing.
Written by A. Quaglieri, Check out his blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins