The Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Baltimore, Maryland 1918-1933

Compiled by Michael T. Walsh, University of Maryland Baltimore County for the Maryland State Archives

H.L. Mencken enjoys an Arrow beer at the Hotel Rennert in 1933, after Prohibition was repealed.

The constitutional enactment of national in 1920 and its progressive aim of uplifting American society only lasted until 1933. Public opinion evolved in those thirteen years from supporting national to denouncing the attempt at legislating morals. Prohibition has generally been ridiculed in American history as a failure. No other state defines the failure of better than the State of Maryland from 1918-1933, especially in the defiant urban center of Baltimore.

Maryland was unique in its reactions to prohibition. It was the only state to never pass a state enforcement act, proudly labeling itself as a wet state. Prohibition in Maryland was seen as an infringement on states’ rights to enforce and control liquor traffic within its borders. Therefore, national prohibition would not be supported by the infringed upon state.

Between 1920 and 1933, the U.S. was legally a dry nation. Prohibition attempted to outlaw the manufacture and distribution of alcoholic and intoxicating beverages. Historians have generally agreed that those who led the prohibition movement were the middle-class reformers who were often the activists in the progressive movement. Since alcohol was deemed by these people to be one of the most prodigious evils that plagued the lives of Americans, the eradication of alcohol was initially a colossal victory.

Calls for temperance and prohibition existed before the United States was a nation. Paradoxically, Maryland is credited with starting the anti-liquor movement in 1642 when the colony punished drunkenness with a fine of 100 pounds of tobacco. The modern temperance movement had its roots firmly planted in the early- to-mid-nineteenth century. In 1826, the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was organized in the city of Boston. Ironically, the Washington Temperance Society was formed in April 1840 at a tavern in Baltimore, Maryland by reformed drinkers. Repeated attempts to pass local and national prohibition laws were made during the mid-1800s through the early twentieth century.

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This entry was posted in 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, Booze, H.L. Mencken, Vices and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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  1. Pingback: Belated happy birthday, H. L. Mencken | Millard Fillmore's Bathtub

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