Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The women of "Prohibition"

Filmmaker Burns puts the HERstory into latest documentary

If you missed the premiere of "Prohibition," all three parts will be shown here in Detroit on WTVS, Channel 56 on Sunday,Oct. 9 beginning at 1 p.m.  Or you can just by the DVD here.

There's no need to ask, "Where are the women?" in Ken Burns' latest historical documentary film series "Prohibition."  The series, which debuted on PBS this month,  does a brilliant job of spotlighting prominent women on all sides of an issue that led to America's ban on alcohol that lasted from 1920 until 1933.

Carry Nation -- the woman whose name is most prominently associated with prohibition and temperance -- is there, but so are other smart and intriguing women with feminist ties that went beyond temperance. 

I found an article on the Schafer Library of Drug Policy's website titled "A History of Alcohol Prohibition" that makes this interesting point:

"A series of "isms" was aroused in this era : feminism, unionism, socialism, and progressivism. Prohibition absorbed elements of them all, and vice versa. 

The feminist movement originated early in the 1800's. Until the 1870's, however, feminine involvement in the temperance effort was largely peripheral. The Women's Crusade of 1873 and the organization of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1874 marked the formal entrance of women into the temperance movement."

Enter Frances E. Willard, who led the WCTU from 1879 until her death 19 years later.

The same article calls Willard, " ... a lady equally committed to the principle of equality of the sexes. Temperance was to bridge the gap, she believed:  Drink and tobacco are the great separatists [sic] between men and women. Once they used these things together, but woman's evolution has carried her beyond them; man will climb to the same level . . . but meanwhile ... the fact that he permits himself fleshly indulgence that he would deprecate in her, makes their planes different, giving her an instinct of revulsion."

Willard went on to expand the the conscience of the WCTU along "broader lines of social reform," as evidenced by an early statement of principle which read:

"We believe in a living wage; in an 8-hour day; in courts of conciliation and arbitration, in justice as opposed to greed in gain; in "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men."

Under Willard's leadership, The WCTU also endorsed  "a better Indian (native American) policy" and "wiser civil service reform."

Willard is just one of the women Burns introduces. Others include Mabel Walker Willebrandt, and my favorite, the colorful writer Lois Long.

The women's stories could be a production of their own.  I hope Burns won't mind that I've put them together here.

Mable Walker Willebrandt

Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Frances Willard and Mary Hanchette Hunt 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Pauline Sabin 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Carry Nation 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

Lois Long 
Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

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