Old School Social Media: Prohibition and the Women’s Right to Vote-A First Hand Account.

What gets this history geek excited? Random mysteries that need to be investigated. Here is one that fell into my lap.

The backstory:  I found a stash of vintage postcards in my old house. I started sending them to family and friends. Who wouldn’t want to receive a 1950s motel advertisement postcard? I soon ran out and told my oldest son. He went on eBay and bought me a new batch, later finding out some of them were “used”.  He brought them over and we had a lot of fun reading the messages on the postcards dated from the early 1900s. One stood out:

The artifact:

Below is the translation for those of you not familiar with fancy cursive writing: Some words in brackets I have yet to figure out.

“Of the girls I write to:  Well it won’t be long until election now just a week. We are all so anxious to have our state become “Dry”. Next-Saturday all the Sunday School children are to march (?) (?)  here in Long Beach wearing “Dry” Caps. No one has any doubt of the southern part of the state, but the northern part is very doubtful. More for the reason that the women didn’t register to vote.  (These/Those?) wet on Saloon women will register every time to help their side out, but so many of the church and moral women (?) to think it is indecent or un ladylike for them to do what really is the only right thing to do under the circumstances. As ever your sincere friend Mrs. W.J.McClary. Long Beach, Cal.

As you can see, before there was on-line social media, people “posted” political opinions on post cards! That, my friends, is 134 words that she wrote, posted, and can never get back-just like on the internet.

Let us look a little closer: She seems to be writing about the Temperance Movement and the vote to ratify Prohibition (banning drinking alcohol).

In the postcard she mentions that women are not registering to vote, which means they could. Women didn’t get the vote till 1920 through the 19th Amendment. In the letter she mentions that the vote for prohibition of alcohol was still to come. That was in January of 1919 -the 18th Amendment. Something is off. 

Time to dig more. Let me get out my search engine!….Well, that explains that! California passed women’s right to vote in 1911. With this information, we can safely say this postcard was written at the end of 1918.

With that mystery solved, we can sit back and take in the whole message.  I wonder if she was part of a radical anti-liquor/temperance group, like the Anti-Saloon League that started in 1893? Even if she wasn’t, she sure was feisty and opinionated!  Those were turbulent times for women. They had to be feisty!

Leaning back further, you have to admire the fact she had beautiful handwriting and squeezed all those words in that small space.  For me, reading old letters is a challenge I can not refuse to take!

I understand there will always be words we may never figure out in these old documents. The authors may have been using a local slang word, or phrase. Or as my sons would tell you, I make up words only they will remember.  Ah, but I am forever hopeful that something else I have yet to read will trigger a key to the full translation. For example: In the letter above a word was a mystery to me until I read further about Prohibition and the term “wet” was used to describe those who were against the ban. They were “Wet” people! With that new information I can re-look at that word and the context of the sentence and see it could possible be the word “wet”. To me, that is better than solving a cross word puzzle!

Well, rest assured Mrs. McClary of Long Beach, CA, your 100 year old political “post” is still being read!



Here is a a quick overview of the Prohibition:


Related articles:

National Handwriting Day is later this month. Check out some more beautiful old handwriting in my collection:  http://maplewoodpress.com/national-handwriting-day/

Here is a little article about how you can make sure your handwriting today is understood: 

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