A new exhibit on prohibition at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum explores aspects of drinking and abstaining from alcohol that you’ve probably never thought about.
The exhibit, “Spirited Prohibition in America,” opens Tuesday and runs through Oct. 21.
It is interactive. Museum visitors can wear and carry temperance banners and slogans, look up the most-wanted criminals during the Prohibition era and experience a speakeasy.
Wichita is one of 23 cities to host the traveling exhibit, which is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Things to keep in mind while touring the exhibit include:
▪ The average person in 1830 drank 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor – a year.
“There was an unbelievable amount of drinking going on,” said Jami Frazier Tracy, curator of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. “Sometimes it was because the water wasn’t safe or tasty.”
Sometimes it was because of the culture: German immigrants and brewers helped fuel the liquor potential in Kansas.
▪ Although prohibition lasted only 13 years nationally, in Kansas, it lasted more than a century. In Wichita, it lasted 69 years.
It began in 1880, when Kansas ratified its constitution with an amendment forbidding the sale and production of intoxicating liquors, making it the first state to pass such an amendment.
Kansas had prohibition from 1881 to 1948 – longer than any other state – and continued to prohibit liquor by the drink in bars and restaurants until 1986.
▪ Kansans were early advocates of the temperance movement, which began in earnest in the 19th century with groups such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League.
One of the featured proponents of prohibition was Kansan Carry Nation, who is featured in the exhibit and who often signed the phrase after her name “Your Loving Home Defender.”
Her first marriage ended with the death of her alcoholic husband, her second in divorce.
▪ The years of national Prohibition – 1920 to 1933 – gave rise to jazz, the cosmetics industry and organized crime and popularized cocktails (because the enhanced flavors helped mask the taste of bootlegged liquor).
Prohibition made women’s restrooms more common and influenced styles of clothing and dances.
“Saloons came about not just in the West but all over the country as a place for men to gather,” Frazier Tracy said. “Women were not welcome in saloons, but they were welcome in speakeasies.
“It was the first time men and women could socially drink together.”
Upcoming programs on Kansas and prohibition
The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum is sponsoring several programs that tie in with the new exhibit “Spirited Prohibition in America.”
All of the following events will be at the museum, 204 S. Main.
▪ Soda fountains of Kansas, 2 p.m. Sept. 12: Explore the glory days of soda fountains, where drinks evolved into the Brown Cow, the Mudslide and the Egg Cream. Speaker is Cindy Higgins.
▪ Bootlegging in Kansas, 2 p.m. Sept. 26: In 1922, Wichitans consumed more than 200 gallons of bootlegged liquor each day and spent more than $2 million annually to do it. Speaker is Pat O’Connor.
▪ Kansas brewers and breweries, 2 p.m. Oct. 17: More than 90 breweries fueled social events in early Kansas. This program looks at the brewers of early Kansas, their role in the community and their influence on present-day brewers. Speaker is Cindy Higgins.
The Wichita-Sedgwick County Museum is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 1-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It is closed Mondays and holidays.
For more information, go to wichitahistory.org.