February 21, 1906 — Committee on the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Mrs. RICHTER: Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, two years ago I had the honor to appear before your honorable body in behalf of this same cause. I am glad to state that I have not changed my opinion, and I therefore speak from the same point of view. Just as I did then, I represent to-day those women of the United States who dare to have their own opinion in a matter which has hitherto been monopolized by a certain class of women who pride themselves that they voice the sentiments of all their sisters. This is especially true concerning those 10,000 women of Missouri who joined in the protest against Governor Folk’s definition of Sunday as a general day of rest — a protest which was issued some time ago by the Missouri branch of the National German-American Alliance.
Why did these women, mostly wives and mothers, from all classes of our population, who rarely trouble themselves with affairs outside their homes and family circles, declare themselves for a so-called open Sunday — plainly spoken, for the open saloon on Sunday?
They do not frequent saloons, and, according to the opinion of some women, they should be glad that the law, at least for one day of the week, keeps the male members of their families out of such a dangerous place.
They became interested, notwithstanding their general aversion to “woman in politics,” in such public affairs as affected their home life, in arguments pro and contra prohibition, and even in such a nasty thing as the so-called “liquor question.”
They began to look around, and they saw that this Sunday law, which proclaimed with a loud and pious voice the welfare of the people, led just to the opposite direction — to degradation — just as all the laws do that would enforce prohibition.
Prohibition affects the middle classes only. It has nothing to do with the very poor; it does not disturb the very rich; but it degrades the working classes — the bone and sinew of a nation — morally and physically.
Prohibition takes away their recreations and degrades them to the condition of a working machine.
Prohibition loosens the bonds of family life. Prohibition under mines a wise education.
Let me explain these seemingly paradoxical assertions.
We all know that a joy of living, that an appreciation of the good things the world has bestowed upon us, that innocent pleasures, that merry laughter, and all wholesome recreations are weighty factors inhuman life. A man who has been working hard all day, no matter what his profession or trade, finds recreation in meeting his friends and congenial company after working hours. A woman who has been drudging all day in her household and with her children has also the same appreciation of recreation and the right to enjoy it.
Prohibition not only forbids this, but it drives men and women into separate clubs to find separate enjoyments. One of the main interests of mothers and wives lies in sharing the diversions of men . The experience of centuries has proved that wherever families jointly frequent public places where they meet good company — and where light drinks are served and good music is rendered, the moral standard has been the highest and comparative happiness has prevailed. As m a n and wife should work and strive in good fellowship for their own and their children’s happiness, so they should be the same good comrades in the hour of recreation and not separate into different groups or clubs. The presence of good women always refines the thought and conduct of men, and in their presence men refrain from all kinds of excesses.
Prohibition abolishes all the innocent enjoyments of summer gardens and like places of amusement. It banishes the light drinks form home tables and substitutes a stolen sip of something strong in the closet or under the straw, in the barn.
Believe me, in that household where beer or wine is found on the table, subject to modest use, children never think of craving for it. They will partake of the little that is given to them as naturally as they eat an apple or a piece of candy and it will be nothing strange or exciting for them when they taste it for the first time as half grown boys and girls. It will not be the forbidden fruit. And you know how dangerously sweet that tastes.
I never saw so many boys drunk and noisy on the streets in our quiet neighborhood in St. Louis as since the enforcement of the Sunday law. And I know of many a working man, who seldom visited a saloon on a Sunday, who spends his money now in those readily organized clubs just for the fun of circumventing the law. There they drink to excess because the beer barrel or the whisky jug must be emptied at a certain time, under the fear of police interference. They were formerly satisfied with a glass or two of beer or wine at the saloon or with that little amount they brought home for the whole family. It has been represented that a convenient or subservient police record showed that crimes were lessened through the enforcement of the Sunday law. They indicated a smaller Monday docket, but they did not explain why the docket on Tuesdays was so much larger. And the statistics of our hospitals show an increase of cases of alcoholism by 100 per cent and more. People will get a bottle of whisky more easily that [sic] a can of beer. Yet this is only the result of the closed Sunday. We see the glaring effects of prohibition in the conditions that prevail in the prohibition States and in the disgusting results that followed the abolition of the canteen.
All men worthy of the name of men revolt at an attempt to regulate their moral conduct by law, and where it is attempted they will break the laws or evade them through means which are unworthy and often childish. Those well-meaning extremists — the prohibitionists — can not change human nature; and if they had studied the art and science of pedagogy they would understand that plain interdiction is as useless as it is unwise. Make a child understand, place the weight of its own responsibility on its young shoulders, and you will have better results than by interdiction. The same principle goes from childhood through manhood and womanhood. You can not form a strong character if you do not show the boy or girl where strength is needed in the emergencies of life.You cannot expect to stamp out crime by removing all possibilities of crime as you might take a plaything out of a child’s hand. Laws endeavor to define right andwrong: They punish transgressions. But it is not law, it is education, which reduces crime. The mailed hand rules slaves. Coercion can not enforce morality. Only education can do it. And only experiencec an strengthen our conception of the differences betweenright and wrong. For what is right or wrong in one instance is not so always. What is good or bad for one person in one single case must not be the standard for all in every case.
Our antagonists see the bad effects strong drinks have on some weak characters and they conclude that they must be bad for every one. They know that overindulgence in drink has destroyed the happiness of family life in some cases, and they reason that to partake of beer and wine at any family table must necessarily produce the same effect. With the unreason of a stampeded herd they run and do not look right or left, as soon as they hear the word liquor, and yet they accustom themselves very readily to social practices to which moderate drinking can not compare for evil effects.
Do not attempt in these days of progress to regulate the habits of men through laws. You might as well return to the old sumptuary laws prescribing the row of buttons on our coats or the form of our shoes. Instead of trying to educate the criminal you should return to the cure of the whipping-post or the scold’s pillory.
But all this, gentlemen, has been repeated to you over and over. I need not dwell on it any longer. Nor need I, a woman,remind you of the financial side of the question nor of the lack of wisdom in making laws which will not be kept even by the Government itself, or of the wrong-doing in attacking, through administrative measures, rights guaranteed by the Constitution that was made possible only through these same rights, or of the inevitable corruption of the magistrates and officers by bribery in the prohibition States and the flagrant contradiction of having licenses issued there by the Federal Government.
I am sent here to plead before your honorable body against all laws that will advance prohibition, by thousands of women who protest against the assertions of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. We will not be ruled by a minority of women, who regard these questions from a very narrow viewpoint, as, for instance, is illustrated by such queer remarks as uttered lately at a women’s convention in Detroit, that prohibition would put a sudden stop to the much-ventilated practice of race suicide.
The suggestion of the learned lady throws a disagreeable light on the habits of many families which the prohibitionists generally claim as their followers, and the children in those grow up strong and healthy, despite, or perhaps because, the mother while nursing the infant gathers strength through moderately partaking of good malted beer instead of weak teas and patent medicines, which, as is known, contain more alcohol than ordinary whisky and are taken by the tumblerful, while partaking of beer or other light drinks in moderate quantities has surely not produced race suicide among our German population.
The members of the W.C.T.U. may mean well, but their work and influence is not always to the benefit of those whom they would protect. During the discussions about the military canteen at the convention of military surgeons a well-known physician made the remark that no steps taken would be of any effect if they did not have the president of the W.C.T.U. on their side. This is surely very complimentary, even if meant as a joke.
If an organization of women may be deemed so powerful that even experts of the Government must despair of having sound laws made against their pleasure, then, indeed, we other women have a right nay, a duty — to step forth in the interest of good sense, liberty of the family, and the right to enjoy life after our own modest and decent ideas. The pleading of women finds its greatest help in the natural politeness of men , and chivalrous men only too often act against the clear and plain interest of the people at large by civility to the importuning of such women, who claim politeness as a privilege superseding right. But complying with their wishes, gentle men, would be slighting ours.
We are for true temperance as heartily as they are. Therefore we are against prohibition which will not lessen intemperance but in crease it by furthering that most contemptible of vices, hypocrisy, causing people to do secretly that which through law they are forced to condemn. We women have not the privilege of voting, but we claim the right to be heard when our family life is concerned. We give to the State our best resources — our children. And we claim the right to so educate them that they become true citizens and liberal-minded men and women. Therefore we protest against the making of laws which are in direct opposition to a wise education, to the happiness of our home life, and to true temperance.
Therefore we protest against the wide-spreading moral evil — prohibition!
Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam, you spoke of the police-court calendar being larger on Tuesday morning than on Monday morning, now that the Sunday-closing law in St. Louis is enforced?
Mrs. RICHTER. They are held for the chief on Mondays and put on the outside docket, so that they lessen the Monday docket, and they can say: “On the Monday docket! We do not have so many prisoners on Sunday.”
Mr. ALEXANDER. Then it is a trick?
Mrs. RICHTER. Yes, sir; it is a plain trick.
Source: Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, 59th Congress, 1st sess. (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office), 1906, pp. 108-112.