Women and Prohibition

Local women worked for and against prohibition.
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A colorized image from the Dorothy Keister papers shows women and children advocating for Prohibition in Grand Rapids. Photos courtesy Grand Rapids Public Library

As Prohibition played out in Grand Rapids, local women were active on both sides of the issue. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was a major player, advocating for both moral and legal temperance. Grand Rapids women like Mary E. Bodwell, Rev. Etta Sadler Shaw, Emma Ford and Lydia Kellogg Boise gave speeches, published articles and advocated for changes in state legislation.

Later, the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) pushed to abolish Prohibition. On April 11, 1933, Michigan was the first state to ratify the 21st amendment, repealing Prohibition. Leaders in the WONPR were recognized for their part in the effort, including Grand Rapids native Dorothy Smith McAllister, who went on to become the director of the Woman’s Committee of the National Democratic Party. In Grand Rapids, she had the honor of being the first person to legally purchase alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition — her bottle of champagne was handed over the counter by Mayor John D. Karel.

The battle over liquor laws stretched over decades, from the formation of the WCTU in 1874, to national Prohibition starting in 1920 and ending in 1933. During that time, women advocated for and against Prohibition, exercising their right to be heard and to effect change. They remind us of our responsibility to speak on issues today.

Map showing which Michigan counties were wet or dry as of 1907. 

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