THIS WEEK IN ALEXANDRIA HISTORY: ALEXANDRIA REPEALS PROHIBITION MONTHS BEFORE STATE OF VIRGINIA

Though not attributed to Alexandria, this photo exemplifies what was indeed happening in saloons all around the Port City on June 29, 1933. (Photo courtesy of Mother Jones)

Alexandria City Council Repeals Prohibition, June 29, 1933

On June 29, 1933, Alexandria City Council repealed the City’s Prohibition laws. As the country moved to abolish Prohibition and the City saw fine revenue decrease, the City repealed its local laws against alcohol, though offenders could still be prosecuted under State law.

Virginia and Prohibition

Virginia went dry in November 1916, three years before national prohibition began. Although Virginia established statewide prohibition through a popular referendum, it nonetheless faced several challenges in enforcing the new law. Its long coastline made it difficult to prevent smuggling, i.e. rum-running. It bordered on a wet state, Maryland, which made barely an effort to enforce national dry laws from 1920-1933. Virginia contained several cities which were reluctantly dry, most notably Alexandria, Richmond and Norfolk. In addition, Virginia had a long-established moonshining tradition in the mountainous western part of the state. As a result, Virginia struggled to live up to the dry ideal it set for itself in 1916.

Virginia’s experiment with prohibition did not come about suddenly. As was often the case throughout the country, Virginia went dry only after a long, protected political battle led by groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Anti-Saloon League (ASL). It was these interest groups that provided the leadership, the voters, and the impetus behind the dry campaign that lead to Virginia’s attempt to ban alcoholic beverages.

Prohibition Ends Nationwide Before State of “Reluctantly Dry” State of Virginia Adopts Repeal

In March 1933 the U.S. Congress passed the Cullen-Harrison Act which legalized the sale of beverages containing not more than 3.2 percent alcohol by weight. However, Virginia still had a state-wide prohibition law in effect and Virginia Governor John G. Pollard was a dry.

But little old Alexandria had enough, and the City Council decided it was over for them. So on June 29, 1933, it became legal to drink in the City of Alexandria, but theoretically, it was still against Virginia State law for a few more months.

In April 1930, Vivian L. Page, a member of the House of Delegates from Norfolk, claimed that the House of Delegates would be overwhelmingly wet if a secret ballot were taken, and that he had personally “drunk with 95 per cent of the delegates.” The statement was reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch the next day and caused something of an uproar.

Senator Harry Byrd finally convinced Governor Pollard that there was strong enough support for repeal to call the Virginia General Assembly into special session. The Assembly met in Richmond on August 17, 1933.

The General Assembly did three things at the special session:

1. Legalized the sale of 3.2 percent alcoholic beverages.

2. Called for a special election to decide whether to continue State Prohibition if National Prohibition was repealed or, in place of State Prohibition, to adopt a “plan of liquor control”.

3. Created a committee to draft legislation in the event Virginians voted to end prohibition in Virginia.

The special election was held on October 3, 1933. The vote to end state prohibition was 99,640 to 58,518 in favor and the vote to devise a plan of liquor control to take the place of State Prohibition passed 100,445 to 57,873. Delegates elected by the voters formally ratified the 21st amendment at a special convention held October 25, 1933. Virginia was the 32nd state to ratify the 21st amendment.