“Prohibition in McLennan County and the State of Texas”

The term “Prohibition” conjures up a variety of images including flappers, speakeasies, moonshiners, bootleggers, and extravagant parties. However, it is important to remember that the 18th  Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcohol was not a moment in time, rather, the end of a long-waged campaign, one that often had local roots. Beginning in the 19th century, the Temperance Movement was an effort to combat the consumption of alcohol in the United States. The concept of temperance often found fertile soil among religious groups, particularly women. The original focus of the movement was on moderation and the individual person. However, by the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the focus had shifted to complete abstinence from alcohol (known as “teetotaling”) and an emphasis on the legal prohibition of alcohol throughout society. As Prohibition gained more support, reformers, known as “drys,” sought to implement local options on city and county levels. Initially met with great resistance, the push towards Prohibition ultimately gained significant traction.

Society’s gradual shift towards accepting Prohibition can be seen in the history of McLennan County. From 1885 to 1917, there were at least five elections regarding prohibition in the county. The Day, a Waco newspaper, reported on September 1, 1885 that Prohibition had failed with 3,681 votes against and only 1,733 in favor.[1] Thirty-two years later, on October 24, 1917, the Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune announced that Prohibitionists had finally triumphed in an election by 1,273 votes.[2] This newspaper article also examined the past four local option elections, starting in 1895. Over the 22-year period, it is evident that Prohibitionists were slowly gaining ground. As a result of the reformers’ perseverance, McLennan County went dry on December 1, 1917.

When considering these election results, it is important to remember that only white males over the age of 21 could vote at this time. Although African American men could theoretically vote due to the 15th Amendment (1870), they were, in reality, disenfranchised by various means including poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and violence. Women were also prohibited from voting.

The 1920 U.S. Census reported a population of almost 83,000 people.[3] Taking into account the voting restrictions addressed above, a vote by an estimated 11% of the population caused McLennan County to transition to a dry county.

While the major focus of the Prohibitionists’ efforts tended to be on the county level, advocates were also working on the state and federal levels. An article in the Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune dated July 26, 1911 referenced the current state-level prohibition election as well as a similar election held in 1887.[4] In 1907, the Baskin-McGregor Act was passed by the Texas Legislature. This law “defined licensing procedures and prescribed operating hours and conditions”[5] for a wide array of activities and actively prohibited

  • prostitutes or lewd women;
  • any woman from entering or remaining in bars;
  • any vulgar or obscene pictures;
  • keeping or using any piano, organ, or other musical instrument;
  • any boxing, wrestling, or sparring;
  • and any games such as billiards tables, card, dominoes, etc.[6]

Ultimately, Prohibition became the law of the land when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on January 26, 1919. The law went into effect a year later. The state of Texas also passed a state constitutional amendment in favor of Prohibition in 1919.[7] The state amendment was not repealed until 1935, although the 21st Amendment to the U. S. Constitution effectively ended national Prohibition in 1933. After alcohol was legalized in Texas once again, the local option persisted as a means to combat the consumption of alcohol. Over the past 90 years, McLennan County has remained a partially wet county, with certain precincts and cities oscillating between wet and dry.

A pamphlet of songs for Prohibition that was printed in Waco, Texas. Texas Prohibition Songs. Circa 1900-1935. Texas RBT HV5090.T4 T49 1900z, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
The results of Prohibition elections from 1895 to 1917. “Pros Win County by 1,273 Majority,” Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, October 24, 1917, Vol. XXIII No.43 ed., The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
A map of Texas that depicts wet and dry counties in the state. Prohibition Map of Texas. Circa 1908. Drawer 27, Folder 1 (31263030918335), The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
The Prohibition Amendment to the Texas State Constitution. The Dean Law and the Prohibition Amendment to the Texas Constitution by R.V. Nichols and L.C. Sutton. Austin, 1919. Texas HV5090.T4 N5 1919, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

[1] The Day (Waco, Texas), September 1, 1885, Vol. 2 No. 240 ed., accessed July 21, 2020, https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/the-day-waco-texas-vol.-2-no.-240-tuesday-september-1-1885/482322.

[2]  “Pros Win County by 1,273 Majority,” Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, October 24, 1917, Vol. XXIII No.43 ed., accessed July 21, 2020, https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/waco-semi-weekly-tribune-waco-texas-vol.-23-no.-42-wednesday-october-24-1917/581383.

[3] United States, Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Population 1920: Number and Distribution of Inhabitants, (Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1921), page 637, accessed July 21, 2020, https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1920/volume-1/41084484v1ch5.pdf.

[4] “The Battle of Ballots Over,” Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune, July 26, 1911, Vol. XVII No. 17 ed., accessed July 21, 2020, https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/waco-semi-weekly-tribune-waco-texas-vol.-17-no.-17-wednesday-july-26-1911/568271.

[5] Motl, Kevin C. “Under the Influence: The Texas Business Men’s Association and the Campaign against Reform, 1906-1915.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 109, no. 4 (2006): 494-529. Accessed July 21, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30242333.

[6] Texas, State Senate, Journal of the Regular Session of the Thirtieth Legislature (1907), page 954; 963, accessed July 21, 2020, https://lrl.texas.gov/scanned/Senatejournals/30/S_30_0.pdf.

[7] Handbook of Texas Online, K. Austin Kerr, “Prohibition,” accessed July 21, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/vap01.

Research Ready: May 2020

By Sylvia Hernandez, Archivist

The Texas Collection posts newly accessible resources every month. If you have any questions or would like to use these materials, please let us know and we would be happy to assist!

April maps

Carte du Mexique et des pays limitrophes situés au nord et à l’est, 1811; Translated as “Map of Mexico and the Neighboring Countries to the North and East”

From the same atlas as the famous Carte Générale du Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne (translated as “General Map of the Kingdom of New Spain”), this map gives more context to Texas by depicting the southern half of the North American continent. Unlike many of its cartographic predecessors, this map correctly depicts the course of the Rio Grande River.

Hispania Nova, circa 1597; Translated as “New Spain”

An early map published in Corneille Wytfliet’s atlas Descriptionis Ptolemaicae augmentum (translated as “Ptolemy’s World Augmented”), this map focuses mostly on Mexico with information on Texas limited to the coastline. Most of the Texas rivers are incorrectly drawn, because Texas remained relatively unexplored by Europeans except for Spanish missionaries.

Mapping Texas: A Cartographic Journey, 1561 to 1860

Image courtesy of Carlye Thornton, Senior Specialist, Marketing & Communications for University Libraries and ITS.

by Rachel DeShong, Special Event Coordinator and Map Curator

On November 14th, The Texas Collection hosted its annual fall lecture which focused on the newly published book Mapping Texas: A Cartographic Journey, 1561 to 1860. This project, published by Baylor University Press, was a collaborative work written by John S. Wilson, Baylor’s Interim Dean of Libraries and Director of The Texas Collection, Sierra M. Wilson, Print Production Coordinator for the University of Chicago Press, and Rachel DeShong, the Map Curator at The Texas Collection. Mapping Texas features 44 full color maps from the Frances C. Poage Map Room in the style of a large, coffee-table book. At the lecture, the authors explored the origins of the iconic boundary of Texas, highlights from some of the more prominent maps, and the practical and artistic aspects of map cartouches.

The first map the speakers analyzed was Nueva Hispania Tabula Nova[1], 1561. This is one of the earliest maps in our collection and is one of the first maps that accurately depicts the Texas coastline. The map is notable because of the various editions – also referred to as “states” – that exist. The third edition, which The Texas Collection owns, is distinguished by the introductions of new place names and the illustration of a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.Continue Reading