Sinners and Saints - Part 02
Vice and Reform in Kansas
"The history of King Alcohol is a history of shame and corruption, of cruelty and crime, of rags and ruin."--Girard Press, January 1876
Drinking alcohol was a common practice in early Kansas. Settlers brought " spirits" with them to treat their illnesses and to drink at celebrations. Often among the first businesses in frontier towns, saloons provided men a place to visit, conduct business and, of course, drink.
Even so, Kansans were divided on the issue of alcohol.
Reformers believed alcohol destroyed families and went against God's will. The drinking man was blamed for wasting his pay on alcohol instead of providing for his wife and children. The sight of a drunkard stumbling down a public street provoked reformers to eliminate the sources of alcohol, keeping communities safe from the spectacle of drunkenness.
On the other hand, European immigrants (particularly Germans) believed beer was part of their cultural heritage. Kansas beer gardens and saloons provided Germans opportunities to make livings as brewers, delivery drivers, and saloon owners. These places also were centers for German culture, food, music, and conversation.
Picnickers at the Walruff beer garden in Lawrence used the beer mug (top, right). Prussian immigrant John Walruff owned this large brewery and beer garden, named the Go Somewhere Saloon, where entertainment was provided by German musicians.
These brewers clogs (center, left) belonged to Theodore Weichselbaum who operated one of the first Kansas breweries in 1859. He wore the clogs over his shoes to keep the grain clean while raking it to dry.
"Home Defenders" and the Politics of Alcohol Reform
Some people who visited saloons no doubt drank too much. Drunkenness angered temperance activists (particularly women), who felt that a man should be sober and safely at home with his family.
National movements to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcohol began in the eastern United States in the 1820s and 1830s. The brewing and distilling industries proved to be formidable foes and used their political influence to fight alcohol reform.
All over the United States, men and women, primarily Methodists and Evangelical Protestants, pushed for laws to close saloons and eliminate alcohol. With God on their side, these "home defenders" felt they could not fail. Protestant reformers often blamed Catholicism and the customs of immigrant cultures for the persistence of alcohol and drunkenness in American society.
Do you know the difference between Prohibition, Temperance, and Abstinence?
- Prohibition: forbidding by law the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic liquors
- Temperance: moderation in or abstinence from the use of intoxicating liquors
- Abstinence: refraining from drinking alcoholic beverages entirely
Sinners & Saints is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.
- A Moral and Pure Society - Creating better communities was the goal.
- Alcohol - The politics behind alcohol reform.
- Agitate, Educate, Organize! - Women's role in prohibition laws.
- Gambling - Betting men took money away from their families.
- Gambling Timeline - Kansas issues.
- Prostitution - Seen as threatening the moral fabric of society.
- Prostitution Timeline - Kansas issues.
- Smoking - Cigarettes were believed to corrupt youth.
- Smoking Timeline - Kansas and U.S. issues.
- Vice in the 20th and 21st Centuries - They're still vices, but now the issue is health.
- Kansas Reformed? - The definition of "vice" has shifted over time.
Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org