It was interesting to see so many of the issues I’ve worked on in policy and feminist history show up throughout the first installment of Ken Burns’ Prohibition.
Kudos to Burns for tracing the history of women’s activism in terms of the temperance movement in the 19th century–they are absolutely intertwined. It is amazing to reread the history of temperance seeing “alcohol” as code for domestic violence, marital rape and financial ruin if paychecks were brought directly to taverns where they could be cashed and spent in full. This did not encompass every single drinker’s behavior, thank goodness, but it has always interested me to think about how easily we can use one identifiable so-called “evil” as a stand-in for far more amorphous social problems (then and now).
Last year, I spent a lot of time doing research on New York’s alcohol policy, and the same arguments from the 19th century about the city’s “vice neighborhoods” now appear as battles over the efficacy of allowing “nightlife districts”. Watching Burns’ documentary, you see history repeat itself over and over again. In America, fights over alcohol have been going on in the background of our politics forever–one way or another.