‘Whiskey War’ fought in Delaware in 1874

By Gary Budzak

March 19, 2014

An Ohio Wesleyan University graduate returned to his alma mater to describe how Delaware’s women once tried to rid the community of alcohol.

Tim Prindle, a 2012 OWU graduate who is a graduate student at Bowling Green State University, spoke about “Delaware’s Whiskey War 1874” at the 30th annual Joseph and Edith Vogel lecture in the Hamilton-Williams Campus Center on March 18.

Prindle said that in February of 1874, temperance leader Diocletian Lewis spoke about the evils of drink at OWU, immediately galvanizing Delaware’s women into action.

Bands of women went to the town’s pharmacies and asked them not to sell alcohol. There was some compliance, enough that it encouraged the women to pray for the closure of Delaware’s 33 saloons and asking the owners to close their establishments.

At one point, the crusaders set up camps outside the saloons. As might be expected, the saloons resisted, and the movement fizzled in the summer.

“The crusades were a spectacle,” Prindle said, and in a town of 6,000 people, Delaware’s three newspapers – The Gazette, The Herald and Signal – covered the events with their own biases.

Despite their failure in ridding Delaware of alcohol, Prindle said the temperance movement helped women step outside of their traditional roles and gave them a more active role in the community.

One Delaware woman, Harriet McCabe, became the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Ohio’s first president, and drafted their constitution. She died just before Prohibition was enacted, and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery. Prindle said the WCTU is still active.

As evidence of the vestiges of the temperance movement, Ezra Vogel, a 1950 OWU graduate who made the lecture possible, said he remembers being pressured to sign a pledge not to drink as a younger student.