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Kansas Memory Blog

Prohibition faces push back by Germans

Posted by on Oct 10, 2018

By: Haley Suby, Digital archivist 

Germans brought their culture and language to the United States and sought to preserve them when emigrating to the United States. One example of German culture in Kansas is Turnvereins, commonly referred to as Turner Halls. Turner Halls were the epicenters of socializing and athleticism in these communities and often centered around the production and consumption of beer. Soon after establishing their communities and breweries Germans fought to preserve their right to brew and drink beer against new state laws on the prohibition of alcohol. 

 Figure 1: Turner Hall, UID 209348

Kansans were early adopters of prohibition forming the first temperance organization in 1850, passing a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution in 1880 and bringing prohibition to the national stage in 1884 when Kansas Governor John St. John ran as a presidential candidate for the Prohibition Party. To influence legislation that would allow Turner Halls to continue providing beer for their communities, Germans promoted their moderate approach to consumption, rejecting the over-indulgence often exhibited by some Americans, and provided samples of beer to government officials. Germans along with other immigrants and brewers were successful enough for a time that some Kansans hoping to preserve their own right to indulge even sought their help. In one letter from a Mr. L.W. Clay of Lawrence to John Walruff , Prussian brewer, in 1882, Clay asks Walruff for his advice of how to purchase beer for the City Council without facing the legal backlash of prohibition in Kansas.


Figure 2: John Walruff Brewery, UID 209348

To continue providing beer for their communities and preserve their culture, Turner Halls could purchase and be awarded lemonade licenses by the State. The origin of the name “lemonade license” is unclear but it may have come from a refinement method to produce beer that contained less alcohol and aroma of traditional brewing methods. The Denton and Doniphan County Turnverein was a well-known source of bottled beer for Germans (Topeka State Journal, 1895) But as prohibition laws continued  to tighten their grip on all communities serving liquor, Turner Halls “(…) forced a compromise allowing Germans to buy beer on Sundays except during church service hours” (Higgins, 1992, p. 15) . 

For some Turner Halls this was not enough and they continued selling beer during operating hours illegally and paid fines. To maintain operating costs, such as paying fines and purchasing lemonade licenses, Turner Halls began charging memberships fees and beer coin fees. Their open rebellion to prohibition came from their “(…) German subculture’s resistance to assimilate and reluctance to abandon the past” (Higgins, 1993, p. 6). 

Figure 3: Turner Society, UID 209368


In the end, Turner Halls lost their right to sell beer. The prohibitory amendment proposed by state legislature was passed in 1879 by voters reflecting Kansans disapproving attitudes toward drinking and unruly behavior. The amendment faced rebellion by breweries as they continued to serve alcohol through the end of the nineteenth-century, but as penalties became more severe, breweries were forced to accept the law by the early 1900s. In response to closing breweries and prohibition, Kansans as well as other states turned to new sources for their liquor, one such instance being a physician’s prescription card to purchase liquor at a pharmacy. By the beginning of the twentieth-century, Turner Halls turned their attention to promoting athletic endeavors for young men in their community.

 Further reading:

 Higgins, C. “Kansas Breweries, 1854-1911,” Kansas History 16, no. 1 (1993): 2-21.

Higgins, C. Kansas Breweries & Beer, 1854-1911. Kansas: Ad Astra Press, 1992.

“From Far Away Russia,” Kansas Museum of History (online exhibit), accessed April 2018, https://www.kshs.org/p/from-far-away-russia-introduction/10679

Kansas State Historical Society. “Brewers Clogs,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified December 2014, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/brewers-clogs/10187

Kansas State Historical Society, Brewery Album, https://www.kshs.org/dart/units/subunits/209348

Kansas State Historical Society. “Germans from Russia in Kansas,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified December 2017, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/germans-from-russia-in-kansas/12231

Kansas State Historical Society. “Lewelling, Lorenzo, D.,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified February 2017, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/lorenzo-d-lewelling/17109

Kansas State Historical Society. “Prohibition,” Kansapedia (blog), last modified March 2014, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/prohibition/14523

Comments on "Prohibition faces push back by Germans"

Comment written by: DenGra on Oct 23, 2018 -- Permalink | Suggest Removal

Unless I've overlooked them, the articles listed under "Further reading" do not includes references to Volga Germans except in "From Far Away Russia" which doesn't touch on beer, breweries, Turnvereins, or prohibition. Will the author provide sources for the Volga German references in the article, please? Thanks.

Comment written by: hasuby on Oct 30, 2018 -- Permalink | Suggest Removal

Thank you for visiting the articles under "Further Reading". "From Far Away Russia" online exhibit was included for Part V, "German Customs with a Russian Flavor" to represent the assimilation and push-back by immigrants of German, Russian and Volga-German background in Kansas."Ogden Brewers Clogs" discusses the wooden clogs worn by a German brewer in Kansas and the success of his brewery for ten years prior to being forced to close by prohibition. "Germans from Russia" article provides background to understand why Volga-Germans immigrated to Kansas from their homes from the banks of the Volga River. "Lorenzo D. Lewelling" biography was included to provide context to legislative policies being put in place and facing the Governor of Kansas at the time prohibition was passed as law. Finally, the article "Prohibition" provides readers with more information about prohibition across the state of Kansas and can then create conclusions to the climate facing brewers. Articles included are listed alphabetically by author and title.

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