1920-1929

Austin Davis, Benjamin Elliott, Connor Stumm, Bryan Tippmann

The “Roaring 20s” Prohibition laws across the nation outlawed any form of consumable alcohol. Many historians refer to the public’s near-indifferent position on alcohol enforcement when talking about public opinion during this era. While groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League flooded polls and ballot boxes with prohibition supporters, they misrepresented the opinion of the nation as a whole. These groups made up the majority of voters, but they were among the minority of the population.

This disparity between public policy and public opinion fostered a culture critical of the nation’s laws. Sentiments such as this can be seen in the Bachelor throughout the 20s in the opinion section through satirical poetry, jokes about whiskey, and stating there is no reason to curb our vices if the government will outlaw them anyway. These opinions were wide-spread and underground drinking in “speak-easys” became the popular social event.

On campus at Wabash, students and professors were aware of the dangers of illegal, bootlegged alcohol—dangers like poisons and heavy metals leached into or added to liquor during the brewing process. There was also the danger of criminal charges, especially seeing as Indiana had some of the nation’s strictest prohibition laws adding state laws on top of federal enforcement.  As we sifted through campus publications from 1920-1929,  the meat of the American prohibition era, we found that Wabash and its community had a relatively predictable attitude toward the situation. References to alcohol or prohibition often seemed to be sources of comic relief early in the decade, but we found as years passed and as students experienced the downsides of prohibition that critical thinking and careful contemplation made their way into the Bachelor.

‘Twas at a Picnic

"'Twas at a Picnic"
the Bachelor, October 20, 1920

This satirical poem is an example of the lax attitude that Wabash students had toward alcohol. While it never explicitly mentions alcohol, it is designed to force the reader to make an assumption that the “liquid brown” was whiskey. It demonstrates the inability of prohibition to remove the presence of alcohol not just from the streets, but from the minds of the citizens.

Report on Poison Case by Professor Wilson

"Report on a Poison Case"
the Bachelor, November 6, 1920

This article from the Bachelor details how the head of Wabash College’s Chemistry department, Professor A. J. Wilson, aided Crawfordsville police in determining that “distillate grain alcohol” led to the death of a local girl, Miss Luna Wright. They tested for wood alcohol or methanol, a type of poisonous alcohol that is a byproduct of improper distilling. This piece gives clear evidence that alcohol enforcement was inadequate during the Prohibition era. Bootleg alcohol was widely available, and the liquor itself was more dangerous now that it was illegal as shown by the testing for wood alcohol and mercury.

Taking the Joy Out of Life: A Sermon

"Taking the Joy Out of Life:
A Sermon"
the Bachelor, May 14, 1921

This article discusses a hypothetical “reformer” who, by removing alcohol and assorted freedoms, takes the joy out of life. In doing so, it points out the inadequacy and hypocrisy of Prohibition. It is demonstrated through this and other representative articles from the period that Prohibition was not well-respected by the members of the Wabash community. The average person represented by this piece would be irreverent of Prohibition laws.

"100 Proof" Popularity

"'100 Proof' Popularity"
the Caveman, March 1, 1924

This cartoon first spotlights the troubles with bootlegging as well as issues with the 18th amendment. Enforcement of the law of prohibition was extremely ineffective and the influences of bootleggers were very prominent during this time period.

Etiquette of Drinking

A Senior, "Etiquette of Drinking"
the Bachelor, October 16, 1928

This anonymous letter to the Bachelor editor, written by a student, lambasts the Prohibition law and its rules.  By making calm, thoughtful assertions, the letter represents how a Wabash-educated man could formulate and express his political opinions during the late 1920s as Prohibition neared its end.  According to the sentiments of this particular senior, there seemed to be little to no reverence for the law throughout the College.