116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Women — liberal and conservative — were a driving force in the nationwide debate over drinking that led to Prohibition, America’s attempt a hundred years ago to ban the consumption of alcohol.
The temperance movement was increasingly tied to the suffragette movement as the country found a way to deal with the politics of alcohol and its problematic gendered norms in American society.
The 18th Amendment was ratified at the dawn of the Roaring ’20s, essentially banning the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. The perceived victory for women, however, was more complicated than it seemed. Especially in Cedar Rapids.
Prohibition helped women and minorities start businesses and make money in the underground economy. Kitchen burners started cooking mash while basements became distilleries.
Husband-and-wife setups were known as blind pigs. Some blind pigs morphed into moonshine joints and “home speaks.” Some generated revenue under the counters of legitimate soft drink parlors.
That was the case with Mary Dvorak who, along with her husband, John, were nabbed in Cedar Rapids’ first big Prohibition bust on March 22, 1920.
The Dvoraks were arrested at their soft drink parlor at 1317 S. Third St. SE. Eleven people faced charges in the citywide raids, including Julia and Thomas Herasimuck.
The raids yielded seven stills, about 100 gallons of “white mule” kegs of raisin mash, 80 gallons of liquor, several gallons of almost pure alcohol, and a large quantity of boxed raisins, as well as hops, apricots and bitters.
Drinking at home
“Drinking in the home … should not and will not be stopped for several generations,” Linn County Sheriff H.J. Manchester told a Gazette reporter in 1929. “I don’t believe the intent of the Prohibition law is to deprive these people.”
That explains why Prohibition-era alcohol-related arrests in Cedar Rapids peaked at 784 in 1922 and at 216 in Linn County in 1924.
To some degree, folks were making their own booze at home or getting it the legal way — by going to their doctors, pharmacists and dentists who could prescribe rye whiskey, scotch and gin for anxiety, depression and pain.
Birth of the cocktail
Alcohol was strong, and women didn’t want to be associated with being good at drinking it, so they used new cocktail recipes from women’s magazines to find the drinks that would become part of their routines and identities.
They learned to make martinis, Manhattans, Gin Rickeys and Old Fashioneds. They also learned the etiquette of hosting a new kind of party called a cocktail party.
With a new penchant for alcohol, an evolving taste for different drinks and acceptance into speakeasies, women had entered a social zone that once was reserved for men.
Wets and drys
Newspapers and magazines that didn’t toe the Prohibition line were viewed as immoral by teetotalers.
“There is no doubt that there has been a conspiracy on the part of the wet press to nullify Prohibition,” the Rev. W.L. Ewing of St. Paul’s M. E. Church told The Gazette in 1929.
Despite the growing acceptance of alcohol throughout the ’20s, alcohol-related arrests continued throughout the 13 years of Prohibition.
Maggie and Matt Pashakornis dove for the cellar when cops raided their home at 1335 D Ave. in Cedar Rapids in 1922. They were caught with a copper boiler and 25 gallons of mash and apple alcohol. It was their second offense.
Anna Easker was busted at her home, 1410 Third St. South in Cedar Rapids, in October 1924. Police found 400 gallons of wine, 30 bottles of beer and a small bottle of alcohol. Customer Alfred Thomas ratted out Easker after selling a pint of her hooch to a federal agent.
Smaller amounts were no less illegal.
Enelma Shomler was arrested at her Cedar Rapids home at 527-1/2 First Avenue in 1929 for possessing three jars of booze. Cops also found a whiskey glass and a funnel.
The 21st Amendment ending Prohibition was ratified Dec. 5, 1933, essentially legitimizing women drinking in public — an outcome that wasn’t discussed when the temperance movement started.
Adhering to an absolutist agenda was an interesting way to get there, especially since so many Prohibition supporters, men and women, were more than OK with the occasional social drink or two.
Joe Coffey, a freelance writer and content marketer in Cedar Rapids, writes this monthly column for The History Center. Comments: email@example.com