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Wets, drys, gangsters, flappers

The Moe Township Temperance Society was established in 1900. That year, the group built Temperance Hall to provide an alternative place for fellowship other than taverns. The building blew down in a storm in 1917 and was never rebuilt. (Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society)

Meet the drys, wets, gangsters, flappers, lawmen and suffragists from one of America’s most colorful periods – the time of prohibition.

It’s all part of the “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibit, which opens at the Minnesota History Center November 9 and runs through March 16, 2014.

Created by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the exhibit spans the dawn of the temperance movement in the early 1800s through the Roaring 20s.

The exhibit includes stories of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists and real-life legends like Al Capone and Carry Nation.

The 5,000-sqare-foot exhibit also includes more than 100 rare artifacts; a recreated speakeasy; films, music, photos and multi-media exhibits; a video game where participants serve as a federal agent tracking down runners; and an iPod audio-visual tour.

At the end of the exhibit, visitors can explore the legacy of Prohibition. Displays show why and how laws differ from state to state and how the idea of drinking responsibly has evolved since the 1930s to reflect what we know about alcohol today.


Prohibition in the U.S. was a national ban on the sale, production and transportation of alcohol from 1920 to 1933.

The dry movement was led by rural Protestants in both political parties and was coordinated by the Anti-Saloon League. 

The ban was mandated by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The Volstead Act set down the rules for enforcing the ban and defined the types of alcoholic beverages that were prohibited.

Private ownership and consumption of alcohol was not made illegal under federal law, but in many areas local laws were stricter and some states banned possession outright. 

Prohibition ended with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment on December 5, 1933.


Minnesota’s own prohibition story is just as colorful.

Andrew Volstead, U.S. Representative from Granite Falls, authored the Volstead Act, which effectively defined how Prohibition would be enforced and what loopholes existed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, lived and partied in St. Paul. He coined the term “Jazz Age” to describe 1920s youth, and St. Paul became a hiding place for many well-known mobsters.

Historical records for Douglas County show that many groups were active during the time of Prohibition and the years leading up to it, including:

• The Alexandria Prohibition Club; its object was “the enactment and enforcement of laws prohibiting the transportation, manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors for use as a beverage.”

• Alexandria Temperance League, formed in 1874.

• The Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

• The Douglas County Anti-Saloon League.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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