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The Augustana College Prohibition League

"Today... public sentiment, this vox populi, is growing, and in its work of reform is aiming its blows at that root of most of our modern evils, namely, the saloon."

So said Conrad Bergendoff, future president of Augustana College, in the Augustana College Prohibition League's oratorical contest in early 1914. His speech, entitled "Public Sentiment," was published in the Observer even though Bergendoff was beaten in the oratorical contest by Helen Wiggers, the only female participant, who spoke on "Prohibition: The Only Hope of a Happy Nation."

The officers of the Prohibition League, from the 1915 Rockety-I yearbook. See larger image. (Augustana Special Collections)

Prohibition refers to the temperance movement, which included national organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. The long-term goals of those in the temperance movement included strict regulation of alcohol traffic, eventual "dry" legislation, and awareness of the detrimental effects of alcohol. Many saw Prohibition as a way to obtain social reform and eliminate crime, poverty, and suffering. In the United States, the efforts of Prohibition supporters eventually led to the passage of the 18th amendment in 1920.

Augustana's Prohibition League was one of the college chapters which made up the Intercollegiate Prohibition Association. Augustana was by no means alone in having such a chapter; in 1917 there were 266 such chapters across the country.

The Augustana College Prohibition League was founded on Feb. 13, 1911, "to promote broad and practical study of the liquor problem and related social and political questions, to advance the application of the principles of prohibition and secure the enlistment of students for service and leadership in the overthrow of the liquor state," according to the 1911-1912 Catalog.

The club's motto was "We stand for the training of college men and women for service in the settlement of the liquor problem." Meetings were held the second Friday of every month, and membership was open to all. Though many leaders of the national temperance movement were women, in its early years at Augustana the Prohibition League's officers were all male.

Even before the formation of the Prohibition League, Prohibition had been an issue on the Augustana campus. The earliest mention in the Observer is from May 1904, and in March 1908 an Observer editorial remarks on how frequently the issue of Prohibition appears in the student newspapers they received from other colleges while lamenting that "there are men, prominent at our institution and in our Synod, who hesitate to declare themselves in favor of a cleaner, better, and greater Rock Island;" in other words, on the side of Prohibition.

The Prohibition League was often spoken of as one of the busiest organizations on campus. Its activities included monthly meetings, sometimes featuring prominent speakers from the community or the national temperance movement, the annual oratorical contest mentioned above, as well as membership campaigns. These campaigns often seem to have turned into competitions about who could enroll the most members, and usually ended with the Observer reporting that membership was once again over 100 students.

In addition to their activities on campus, the Prohibition League also made a of study liquor issues in Rock Island, including its effect on the finances of the city. The result was "Survey of the Liquor Traffic, Rock Island, Ill." which was issued in March of 1914. It included sections on the location of saloons, taxes, and liquor regulation in Rock Island.

A map of Rock Island, showing the advantageous locations of saloons, from the Prohibition League pamphlet "Survey of the Liquor Traffic, Rock Island, Ill." See larger image.

This was not the only attempt at a scholarly study of liquor issues at Augustana: The Observer reports that E.F. Bartholomew's class on the liquor problem was quite popular. The 1916-1917 Catalog lists two philosophy courses with the title "Liquor Problem," which include "lectures, papers, and class discussions on various phases of alcoholism," with the second course being a continuation of the first. Simon Fagerstrom, writing in the 1917 Rockety-I, notes that "students who have taken this course are unanimous in the opinion that they gained more positive and practical knowledge through this course than through any other one-hour course" (most courses were three hours). The courses were popularly referred to as "boozology" -- though presumably not by members of the Prohibition League.

Today Augustana College offers clubs related to almost any interest, with more than 150 student organizations on campus ranging from Juggling Club to Habitat for Humanity. But there is no Prohibition League. Indeed, the League seems to have died out after the passage of the 18th amendment made Prohibition law. Although the Observer reports on various student efforts toward worldwide Prohibition, the Prohibition League is no longer listed in the Catalog after the 1921-1922 school year.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and although it had been an influential movement, its moment at Augustana had passed. Even Conrad Bergendoff was known, in his later years, to enjoy a glass of wine.