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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

How Prohibition Shaped the Twenties

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, July 20, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0100
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Alabamians protesting Prohibition

The 1920s is both one of the most vibrant and rebellious periods in modern American history as well the most socially conservative. A Constitutional amendment kicked off the decade by prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, threatening to muffle its ever-loudening, jazz-inflected roar. The intent was to solve some of the nation's most pressing social issues, including alcoholism, childhood malnutrition, and domestic violence. Instead Prohibition uncorked an exuberant cultural freedom and a host of new social problems, with heady effects still felt today.

Attempts to circumvent or profit from Prohibition gave crime new meaning, provoking a 12-year-long gang war that made Al Capone a household name. Women became more liberated, a sexual revolution got underway, and jazz transformed from an underground expression of the African American experience into the soundtrack of a new generation. Even the president himself drank in violation of the law.

Join Allen Pietrobon, an assistant professor of global affairs at Trinity Washington University and an award-winning historian, as he examines the role that alcohol played in American life leading up to Prohibition. How had drink become such a problem that the U.S. banned all “intoxicating beverages”? Why did Prohibition backfire so spectacularly? And how, in its defiance, did American society and culture change so dramatically throughout the 1920s?

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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.