Collection on the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, 1929-1934

Extent: 2 boxes (1 linear foot)
The Collection on the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform contains materials dating from 1929 to 1933 that illustrate the organization’s mission – strict repeal of Prohibition – and the events they held to garner support. The majority of materials are from the New York State division, although national activities are also represented.

Historical Note
The Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which effectively established prohibition of alcoholic beverages by making the production, transport, and sale of alcohol illegal, was ratified on January 16, 1919.  Prohibition was touted as a way to rid the country of many of its social ills.  Many women and women’s organizations were supportive of Prohibition; they saw it as a way to prevent abuse and to create a better world for their children.  However, in reality, Prohibition did not produce the intended results.  Consumption of mass amounts of alcohol continued in private, and the demand fed rampant underground criminal activity.  In addition, the economy suffered instead of experiencing the predicted upswing.  Prohibition eliminated thousands of jobs – those who were employed producing, transporting or selling alcohol – and state governments lost the revenue from liquor taxes that had made up the bulk of their income.

The Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) was founded in Chicago in 1929 by Pauline Sabin.  Ms. Sabin was an activist – the first woman to serve on the Republican National Committee, and the founder and first president of the Women’s National Republican Club.  She initially supported Prohibition, believing it would create a better society for her two young sons, but after witnessing Prohibition’s effects, joined the repeal effort.  The hypocrisy she observed among politicians – voting “dry” and then expecting cocktails when they visited her house for dinner – also helped change her mind.

The WONPR’s initial members were women of high society, which helped to attract press coverage as well as new members who wanted a chance to mingle with Ms. Sabin and her friends.  In less than two years, the organization’s membership grew to 1.5 million. The organization’s goal was strict repeal.  Its members worked to counter the arguments made by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, whose president, Ella Boole, claimed to speak for all women.  At WONPR’s first national convention in Cleveland in April 1930 members advocated for repeal, and for state regulation of manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol.  In 1932 WONPR joined with several other repeal organizations to form the United Repeal Council, which lobbied at both the National and Democratic National Conventions that year.  Ultimately the WONPR joined the Democratic campaign and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt, under whose leadership the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified on December 5, 1933.

Scope and Content
The Collection on the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform consists of materials produced by and for the organization between 1929 and 1934. The majority of the materials pertain to the activities of the New York State division; some national events are also represented. The main formats of material in the collection are programs, invitations, tickets, pamphlets, and correspondence. The collection also includes a box of 3D ephemera featuring the WONPR logo, including matchbook covers, lighters, and compacts. The series illustrates the organization’s mission and important events in their work to lobby for the repeal of the 18th amendment.

I. WONPR Publications and Materials
II. WONPR Events
III. WONPR Administration
IV. Speakeasies

Click here to view the complete finding aid for the Collection on the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform

Related Collections
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Prohibition, 1927-1934 – Primarily consists of speakeasy cards and bootlegger’s price lists from New York City during the Prohibition era (1920-1933).