Most people with a basic understanding of American history know about two major social contracts that became a reality in the same year.
The first was the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. It became law in 1920. The second was the passage of Prohibition. It banned the sale of alcohol, also in 1920.
What fewer people realize is that these two monumental actions are inextricably linked. In fact, it can be said that the women’s suffrage movement resulted directly in the passage of Prohibition.
A closer look reveals why this is not difficult to understand. The primary leaders of the suffrage movement were women who had suffered terribly at the hands of abusive husbands who were frequently drunk.
An example is Carry Nation. Her first husband was a doctor who was a severe alcoholic. After a long day of work, he would spend hours in a bar before coming home to his family. He would then proceed to beat his wife and brutalized his young daughter. He later died of alcoholism.
Carry Nation then remarried, this time to a respectable lawyer who was also a minister and newspaper editor. But the experience caused her to launch the American women’s temperance movement in the 1880s, although such efforts had already existed for decades.
Other key figures in the women’s suffrage movement were Suzan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Previously, in 1853, they had formed the Women’s State Temperance Society in upstate New York.
One of the driving forces for women to gain the right to vote was so that they could exert political power to tackle the other issue that was making the lives of millions of women miserable — the abuse of alcohol by their husbands. If they had the right to vote, they could support and get elected candidates that were on board with banning the sale of alcohol.
Susan B. Anthony said: “The only hope” for passing Prohibition was “putting the ballot in the hands of women.”
As it turns out, Prohibition passed just seven months before the 19th Amendment became a part of the U.S. Constitution. It’s clear that these two momentous American events were linked in a fundamental way.