Plymouth Stories:Plymouth Church and Prohibition 

April 25, 2020

To while away the time as we are all staying home, some people are creating quarantinis and other viral cocktails. My English penpal from school days sent me photos of potent potables she and her friends had created. Note the little corona virus stirrers and the glasses encased in empty toilet paper rolls. This made me think about Prohibition and how law-abiding folks weren't able to make Spanish Influenza-themed cocktails. (Prohibition became law in Washington State in 1916.)

Nationally, Prohibition was ratified by the states on January 16, 1919, and officially went into effect on January 17, 1920, with the passage of the Volstead Act, but the Temperance movement started about a hundred years earlier with the Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists condemning the use of alcohol. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, had spoken out on the evils of drink in the first half of the 18th century, but he was fighting a losing battle. The 19th century was the time for reformers. As the decades passed, temperance groups grew in number: the YMCA, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Susan B. Anthony's Anti-Saloon League,  the Congregational Association of Washington....

From the Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Congregational Association of Washington, 1882, held at Plymouth Church:

"Believing as we do that our churches...have to do with every question that concerns the wellbeing of mankind, and, believing that the sale and use of intoxicating liquor, with all its connected intoxicating and demoralising influences, brutalizing and belittling man, morally, socially, intellectually, and physically, is one of the greatest evils of our territory and nation, and one of the most powerful opposers of our Redeemer's Kingdom; therefore Resolved that we demand the placing of prohibition in the Constitution of the State of Washington."

In the following years, Plymouth continued to join other churches in the fight against vice. In 1896, they were campaigning for a new city charter and for closing saloons on Sundays. It was suggested in The Path We Came By that Plymouth's minister's "widely read sermons had a good deal to do with rousing the enthusiasm for civic rightousness. At any rate, Judge W. D. Wood of Plymouth Church was elected Mayor on the reform ticket."

Later, the Reverend Dr. Chauncey Hawkins, who was Plymouth's pastor from 1921 to 1927, continued the fight to clean up Seattle. He filed charges that led to an investigation of the City of Seattle saying that "If the police department of Seattle can't obtain law enforcement, the ministers of the city can and will."  The response was threats of kidnapping and violence. Hawkins said that "all Christians must expect to be persecuted....I receive almost daily threats of some kind or other." Not least from the corrupt mayor, "Doc" Brown.

"Mayor Brown had grossly underestimated the power of churches and of women. When he went East in 1924, newly elcted councilmember Bertha Knight Landes took over as acting mayor. She immediately fired the chief of police and on a campaign platform of "municipal housekeeping" defeated Doc Brown in the 1926 election.

Mayor Landes was a former member of Plymouth who had transferred to University Congregational Church in her neighborhood. As the first woman to be elected mayor of any major American city, she emphasized clean government, enforcement of prohibition, and the availability of wholesome recreation, all of which were strongly endorsed by Plymouth members. During the same period, Plymouth's George Cotterill, a former Seattle mayor, aspired to clean up the whole country but, as the Prohibition Party candidate, lost his bid for the presidency." (Seeking to Serve)

So raise a (non-alcoholic) glass to Plymouth and Prohibition!

Last call : the rise and fall of Prohibition /Okrent, Daniel,  363.4 OKR

Outsiders in a promised land : religious activists in Pacific Northwest history /Soden, Dale Edward,  305.6 SOD

Share Your Stories

We have been so focused on what I like to call the Pandemic Pandemonium, but we definitely need a break. I have been researching articles for the Plymouth Library blog and the "Plymouth Church Library" Facebook page that highlight moments in Plymouth's 150 year history. I could use your help. I invite you to send me special memories you have from your time as a member of Plymouth Church. Please email them to plymouthlibrary@gmail.com. I would also like to write an article on Plymouth authors. Let me know about any books, stories, poems, articles, or other writings that you have published. Looking forward to hearing from you! -Suzanne Sanderson, Plymouth Librarian

(The Plymouth Library blog can be viewed here.)

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