From Publishers Weekly
Lerner, associate dean of studies at the Bard High School Early College, presents a riveting account of the attempt to rid the Big Apple of alcohol. The temperance movement forged unlikely alliances: Norwegian church groups found themselves allied with African-American labor activists who believed that Prohibition would benefit workers, especially African-Americans. Tea merchants and soda fountain manufacturers also supported Prohibition, thinking a ban on alcohol would increase sales of their products. But when Prohibition did come to New York, it was hard to enforce—corrupt cops sometimes set up shop in speakeasies. Prohibition raids were "marked by blatant displays of religious intolerances, class bias, and outright bigotry," says Lerner. Working-class neighborhoods, home to immigrants, were policed much more vigilantly than the dining rooms of WASP penthouses. Notions of a universal feminine morality were shattered by debates among women about Prohibition—organizations like the Women's Christian Temperance Union insisted that all women supported the "noble experiment," but women journalists and flappers insisted that some members of the distaff sex wanted to drink. Though Lerner's study is informed by the relevant academic literature, he avoids tedious scholarly debates about Progressive Era reform, resulting in a fascinating study that will appeal to anyone who cares about the history of New York. (Mar.)
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Nowhere was Prohibition more keenly felt or more hotly contested, Lerner argues, than in the diverse cosmopolis of New York City. The citys immigrant and working-class populations, disproportionately targeted by the dry lobby, resisted in great numbers by distilling their own alcohol and frequenting speakeasies. Meanwhile, liberalized ideas about drinking, sex, and leisure bred cultural rebellion in the middle classes, whose alcohol-filled night life became the subject of magazine reportage. But illegal alcohol also fostered graft, organized crime, and violence, and, as concern over the Eighteenth Amendment became more widespread, the city organized politically. The Womens Organization for National Prohibition Reform, founded in New York, became the largest repeal group in the nation, and Governor Alfred E. Smiththe countrys Democratic Party leader on the issueemerged as the "wet hope of the nation."
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