UNL and the Dry Spell: Student Attitudes Toward Prohibition, 1931-1932
Project Editor: Jeffrey Miller, History 470: Digital History, Spring 2008
Table of ContentsOverview
On January 16, 1919, Nebraska became the 38th state to ratify the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. By ratifying this amendment, Nebraska set January 16, 1920 as the official date for the commencement of "The Great Experiment" more commonly known as prohibition (). Interestingly, while Nebraska was 38th to vote for national prohibition, the state itself had prohibited alcohol since May 1, 1917 (). Nebraska's dry (pro-prohibition) attitude, though strong, was not felt statewide. Omaha, Nebraska's largest city seemed to be in line with the wet (anti-prohibition) cause. In fact, when beer became legal again in Iowa, which was before it became legal in Nebraska, the town of Carter Lake, IA (which was conveniently located on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River) became a "beer oasis" for the citizens of Omaha. In contrast to Omaha, the city of Lincoln, "with its Universities and church leaders was considered the home of the dry movement," (). The dry attitude of the capitol city took hold at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as well.
On more than one occasion, UNL was mentioned as an outstanding example of abiding by prohibition laws. The University's chancellor, E.A. Burnett that UNL was "unusually free from liquor or other violations of the law." Harold "Three-Gun" Wilson, the Federal Prohibition Enforcement Official for Nebraska, praised UNL in an under the headline "University one of best institutions in America; Nebraska group not drunken sots." UNL appeared to be home to an upstanding, law-abiding student body in during prohibition, but that may just have been on the surface.
Despite what the officials had to say about the university, student opinion seemed to be leaning toward the wet side of the issue. The conservative history of the state and the university seemed to have kept most UNL students dry in practice, but it did not stop them from being wet in opinion. The Daily Nebraskan student newspaper was the platform from which both wets and drys made their statements. One article, titled "," aimed to help students form their own opinions about prohibition by pointing out possible weaknesses in the law. Another defended prohibition by likening it to other laws. It stated that "murder laws are not perfect and we do not go around attempting to repeal them."
Not all student opinion on prohibition was limited to wet and dry. Two incidents in the early 1930s, and served to stir student opinions about prohibition and the press. These incidents were two separate "rum raids" which led to arrests and suspensions. Though police raids occurred regularly in both Lincoln and Omaha, these two particular raids were heavily publicized in Nebraska newspapers. UNL students had a strong reaction to this negative press. Articles, including one titled "," were written denouncing the sensationalism of newspapers that were looking for any kind of "collegiate scandal," in order to give UNL an unwarranted black eye. Fortunately, UNL students would not have to deal with this bad prohibition press much longer.
United States congress started the repeal of Prohibition early in 1933 and Nebraska made beer legal later in the same year, finally amending the state constitution to repeal prohibition in November of 1934. Although the repeal of prohibition had been put into effect, Nebraska's long-time dry attitude persisted throughout the state. In 1944, the dry movement was able to put a referendum up for vote that would effectively reinstate prohibition in Nebraska. The Daily Nebraskan printed an article filled with student on the referendum, the majority of which were opposed to a new prohibition law. The state appeared to be of the same mind as UNL students and Nebraska voted against the referendum. Since then, there have been no notable resurgences of the dry spirit in Nebraska.