Thursday, April 17, 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014

Keep Kansas Dry! The 1934 Election

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

We stand at the crossroads.  November 6 will be the day of decision.  A vote ‘no’ on repeal will uphold the reputation of the state for honesty and sobriety.” -Editors of the Evening Kansan-Republican, October 30, 1934

In 1934, the fifteen year national prohibition on alcohol was in danger of repeal.  In 1919, Prohibitionists had successfully promoted the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the use of intoxicating beverages, to the U.S. Constitution.  Seen as a ‘progressive’ move at the close of World War I, prohibition was viewed, at best, as a ‘noble experiment’ that had failed by the 1930s. Nationally, the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment was on the ballot in 1934. 

Kansas was a leader in the prohibition movement with outspoken leaders and some of the strictest statues.  Historically, various temperance organizations were active even prior to the Civil War.  Carrie A. Nation inspired many during her saloon smashing days in the late 1890s.  In 1917, Gov. Capper signed the “bone-dry” bill.  Under this legislation, it was illegal for anyone to have or make any intoxicating liquors.  The one exception allowed for communion wine.  In 1934, when the rest of the nation was weary of the restrictions, Kansas was not ready to give up on prohibition. The Kansas legislature passed a resolution to put the question on the general ballot in November 6, 1934. In Harvey County, people were ready to vote their mind.

Evening Kansan-Republican, November 3, 1934

Throughout the fall, the editors of the Evening Kansan-Republican urged readers to “Keep Kansas Dry for Kansas Youth”.  Full page ads were placed in the newspaper urging people to “make sure that you vote No on Repeal.”  Signs with the slogan, “Keep Saloons Out of Kansas” were posted along major roads.  The proposed repeal became the outstanding issue of the 1934 election.

Ezra W. King
Hess, p. 259

With all the activity, one man quietly did his part.  Ezra W. King was a well respected bridge builder from the Hesston community.  In his obituary it was noted, “he took into his daily transaction and carried with him every moment of his life his deep spiritual convictions . . . proving it was possible to be honest in conducting a successful business.” (Evening Kansan-Republican, 5 December 1934.)  

Sign made by Ezra W. King, 1934
HCHM 2011.20.1
In the fall of 1934, shortly before his death, King made several metal signs that he posted around the area. The signs succinctly stated his opinion on the 21st Amendment, “Vote No – Help Keep Kansas Dry.” Kansans and Harvey County rejected the Amendment to repeal the 18th by a large margin although it passed at the national level.

The state of Kansas remained a ‘dry’ state until 1948.  Only two other states took longer to repeal prohibition – Oklahoma (1959) and Missouri (1966).

Clifford King holding sign
made by his father, Ezra King, in 1934.
The Harvey County Historical Museum and Archives would like to thank Cliff King, son of Ezra W. King, who donated one of his father’s signs to the museum.  The sign illustrates a fascinating slice of Harvey County history.

  • Evening Kansan-Republican, October 2, 1934, October 13, 1934, October 30, 1934, November 3, 1934, November 5, 1934, November 6, 1934, November 7, 1934,  December 5, 1934.
  • Bader, Robert Smith.  Prohibition In Kansas:  A History. University of Kansas Press, 1996.
  • Hess, Mary. Anatomy of a Town: Hesston, Kansas.   Illustrations by D.A. Graham, 1976.
  • "Prohibition" Kansapedia - Kansas Historical Society.
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