UNL and the Dry Spell: Student Attitudes Toward Prohibition, 1931-1932

Project Editor:Jeffrey Miller, History 470: Digital History, Spring 2008

Table of Contents

The Wimberly Affair
The Beer Apartment Raid
Source Page

The Wimberly Affair

On Saturday, February 13, 1932, a dance was held in the Coliseum on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. The All-University party was a "Barb" social, which meant it was mainly for UNL students who were non-fraternity students. The party officially ended at 11:00PM, but chaperones Lowry C. Wimberly and Norman Eliason decided there was no harm in allowing the few remaining couples to continue dancing. As explained in this news article Wimberly, Eliason and Eliason's wife made the rounds of the dance floor at 11:30, they noticed some activity around a nearby storage room. Suspicious, they entered the room and closed the door. Mere minutes later, a group of police, detectives and federal officials entered the room and took all of its occupants into custody for violation of federal and state prohibition laws.

This event and its aftermath, also known as "The Wimberly Affair," was a prolific case throughout Nebraska, and it even made national headlines. The Omaha Bee-News immediately jumped on the story, making it front-page news with the huge headline "Drys Raid University Dance on Campus" gracing their Monday issue. The accompanying article offered more facts of the case. On that Saturday night, the police took six people into custody: Wimberly, the Eliasons, former UNL students Alan Williams (a former Barb leader on campus) and Viola Butts (Williams' girlfriend), and UNL graduate student Lucille Mills.

An article in the Lincoln Evening Journal gave further information. After questioning everyone, it became clear that Williams, by his own admission, was the only one actually in possession of the liquor (which all-told added up to about 7-10 gallons of liquor). Wimberly and Eliason denied any connection to the seized liquor, with Wimberly explaining the situation further in a special dispatch to the Omaha World-Herald. The three women were released that night and Wimberly and Eliason were released the next day. Williams, who had often butted heads with UNL administration, was released on a $1,000 bond. According to the Evening Journal, school officials were working with the feds to "clean up" university parties. The school officials also wanted to make it clear that nobody but Williams was accused of any wrongdoing. In another article, Charles Davis, Omaha prohibition officer, told the Omaha Bee-News that "we knew just what was there, where it was, and whom we wanted." All outward appearances showed that the raiders had accomplished their sole task of apprehending Williams. However, less than two weeks later Professors Wimberly and Eliason were suspended for a six-month period.

The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska handed down the decision on Wednesday the 24th of February. According to statements from Chancellor Burnett in the Bee-News, the suspension was "on the basis of evidence," although "no testimony was made public." Burnett's statement in the Lincoln Star made no mention of the reasons behind the suspension. It did specifically mention that Williams had no connections with UNL and that no UNL students were guilty of any wrongdoing. The same article noted that Wimberly and Eliason continued to deny any connection to the liquor. The minutes of the Board of Regents from the hearing noted that in their testimony Wimberly and Eliason "each admitted that he had drank some liquor in a room of the coliseum building." This appears to contradict all previous statements by school officials, police and federal officers and the professors themselves. Were they guilty, or were they just victims of the dry attitude of the time?

In his book Prairie University, Robert E. Knoll recounts the events of the Wimberly Affair and suggests that the suspension might have been part of a setup. According to Knoll's book, Wimberly was sometimes at odds with the University Administration, and his writing was not liked by Chancellor Burnett's wife. Perhaps this was an opportunity for administration to take a shot at Wimberly. It is also possible that the two professors did drink the liquor, but denied connection—perhaps meaning possession—to it, although their denials seem to be all-encompassing. The Daily Nebraskan published articles criticizing the raid and defending Wimberly, who was popular among UNL students. A student petition was even started for reinstatement of the suspended professors. Board of Regents minutes show that this petition was voted on and filed, but no action was taken. Norman Eliason left UNL shortly after the Regents ruling. Alan Williams was fined $500 for illegal possession of liquor. Lowry Wimberly served his six months of suspension and went on to serve for over 20 more years at UNL, passing away in 1959.