By Peyton Jones, Ph.D.
More than one hundred years ago, anti-saloon sentiment animated local politics like no other issue, and on June 2, 1913, in a special referendum, Pinellas County residents voted 796 to 696 in favor of outlawing saloons and liquor sales for two years. In St. Petersburg, the “dry” votes outnumbered “wet” votes by a single ballot.
However, the “dry” victory was less an expression of widespread anti-saloonism and more a testament to the organizational prowess of unenfranchised middle and upper-class white women in St. Petersburg. Indeed, the prohibition of alcohol was part of a broader progressive agenda, and it was the local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union who, for years, led the charge against saloons.
In the lead up to the 1913 referendum, the W.T.C.U. regularly published opinion-editorials excoriating the liquor interests and held rallies where national speakers decried the social evils of strong drink. On voting day, W.C.T.U. members handed out ice-cold lemonade at every precinct and held a prayer vigil at Grace Baptist Church, and after the “dry” vote carried the day, the organization sponsored “ratification and jollification” parties.
To be sure, there was no shortage of spirits for the well-to-do and politically connected, especially with the opening of membership-only clubs and “wet” Tampa nearby.
Cartoon below from the St. Petersburg Times, July 3, 1913.
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