Prohibition Primary Source Set

Educator Resources

About Prohibition

With the ratification of the 18th Amendment, alcohol consumption became illegal. Some people had believed that this would help preserve the moral integrity of society. They supported the amendment and expected it to reduce crime, and better protect women and children from domestic violence. Unfortunately, this amendment was largely unsuccessful and organized crime actually increased. People started bootlegging, or illegally obtaining and distributing liquor, and opened up “speakeasies” to have a place to drink together. After over a decade of Prohibition being in effect, it was repealed. In 1933, Utah became the 36th and last state to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th and made alcohol legal again throughout the country. The sources here show issues related to both the 18th and 21st amendments, including state congressional debates and criminal records.

Powell, Allan Kent. “Prohibition.” Utah History Encyclopedia. encyclopedia/p/PROHIBITION.shtml.

Interior of bar before Prohibition
Image: Interior of a crowded bar moments before midnight, when wartime prohibition went into effect New York City. New York, 1919. Photograph.

Resources for Historical Context

Elementary School Students

Secondary School Students

Discussion Questions

After reading through these primary sources, discuss these questions in groups to better understand the history of Prohibition and both the 18th and 21st Amendments.

Elementary School Students

  1. Why was Prohibition enacted?
  2. Why was Prohibition later repealed?
  3. Why is it significant that Utah was the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment?

Secondary School Students

  1. What impact did Prohibition have on crime in the United States?
  2. What role did women play in bringing about Prohibition (see Resources for Historical Context for more information)?
  3. How is the issue of prohibition related to issues regarding other intoxicating substances today? What would a modern-day Prohibition look like? Would it be effective?

Teaching and Learning

Tags: Legal History, Progressive Era, Utah History, Prohibition, Constitutional Conventions

Utah Core State Standards for Social Studies

  • United States History II, Strand 2: Reform Movements
  • United States History II, Strand 3: Traditions and Social Change

Written by Mariah Todd
Originally published in September 2020

Primary Source 1

Page from petition to Legislature

Series 428, Box 14 Folder 34

Description: Various petitions from Utahns urging the creation of state-wide prohibition of alcohol in 1915.

Analysis Questions

  1. Why were some people eager to pass the statewide prohibition and ban alcohol?
  2. hat do these petitions show about civic engagement in the early 1900s?

Primary Source 2

Newspaper clipping from 1933

Series 6300, Reel 1 (Folder 5)

Description: Newspaper Clippings regarding 21st amendment from the Salt Lake Tribune in 1933.

Analysis Questions

  1. Why was it important for some that Utah be the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment?
  2. Using what you know about Prohibition, why had Utah changed from originally wanting it to then eagerly voting to repeal it? In other words, what changed during the years of Prohibition?

Primary Source 3

Letter from State of New Hampshire

Series 6300, Reel 1 (Folder 6)

Description: Letters from other states urging Utah to ratify the 21st Amendment.

Analysis Questions

  1. Why was Utah concerned with whether other states had ratified the 21st Amendment yet?
  2. Why did Utah officials want to know how the issue was discussed during other states’ Constitutional Conventions?

Primary Source 4

Page from Ogden mug shot books

Series 13300, Box 6 Folder 14

Description: Mugshot and arrest records from Ogden Police.

Analysis Questions

  1. Why was E.J. Davidson arrested?
  2. What does this source show about crime in Utah during Prohibition?

Primary Source 5

Certificate of Election

Series 6300, Reel 1 (Folder 1)

Description: Delegate election certificates from 1933. This document also contains the proposed amendment that would repeal the 18th Amendment.

Analysis Questions

  1. How much time do the states have to ratify the amendment before it becomes obsolete?
  2. Why would some delegates want to pass the amendment and others not?

Primary Source 6

Proceedings of Convention Series 3212, Box 2 Folder 17

Description: Discussion of "drunkards" and prohibition during the Utah Constitutional Convention.

Analysis Questions

  1. What did the proposition seek to provide for "common drunkards"?
  2. What does this source show about discussions on alcohol and prohibition?