Peter Carlson’s article “Uneasy About Alcohol” (December 2008) was full of accurate information, but the statement that “Prohibition not only failed to eradicate slums and prisons, it even failed to curtail drinking,” is disproved by the elaborate graph, “The Tipsy Turvy Republic of Alcohol,” in the same issue. The graph depicts annual per capita consumption of alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s at an all-time low of 4.5 gallons.
It seems to me that consumption was less then because of frightful tales about dangerous “bathtub gin,” and many people would never think of going to speakeasies. But has it ever occurred to historians that thousands of us choose to obey the law because it is the law? Many may get a thrill out of flouting the law, but many more do not live in that mindset.
While we will never see Prohibition again, it was not the 100 percent disaster that modern textbooks and journalism assert that it was.
The editors reply: The figures for per capita consumption in the 1920s and 1930s are based on sales revenue for medicinal alcohol and other legal uses. It’s impossible to determine precisely how much alcohol was consumed illegally, but a 1923 study of the impact of Prohibition on 30 major American cities found that between 1920 and 1921, arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct increased 41 percent, while drunk driving incidents shot up 81 percent. Between 1925 and 1930, convictions for Prohibition-related offenses jumped 1,000 percent.
The woman pictured in the poster in the December 2008 article “The Hello Girls” is Valerie Beatrice Underwood (Hart), my grandmother. The original painting for the poster was done by her father, Clarence F. Underwood, who was a popular illustrator for Saturday Evening Post, McClure’s and Atlantic Monthly in the early 1900s. My grandmother did serve during the World War I, however, she remained in Washington, D.C. She was always very proud of her service and kept some of the insignia and a swatch of her uniform in a scrapbook along with official communications from the military thanking her for her service.
I thoroughly enjoy American History, but I need to provide my 2 cents on “Mortgaged America” (October 2008). I have no doubt that we are in the midst of a mortgage and lending crisis, but I think Nigel Holmes missed an opportunity to drive home the real shocker contained within the data.
The most alarming information that I have seen in a good long time—in print or on the Web—is presented in the anemic graphs Evaporating Equity and Living Underwater. The fact that the number of people who owe more than their houses are worth has increased from 7 percent to 45 percent since only 2003 scares me to no end. That means nearly half the country could not take advantage of a better job offer in another area, downsize when the kids grow up or even retire. They’re stuck because of poor choices, misleading brokers, unwise mortgage schemes and, of course, plain bad luck. I wonder, too, if the slight decrease from 52 percent in 2006 to 45 percent in 2007 is due to a significant number of people who lost their homes.
This data, not the total absolute value of debt, should have been the “big red area” on your graph. This was the information that set the alarms ringing in my head.
“Lizzie Borden Blowback” (Publick Occurrences, December 2008) misidentified the location of a Borden museum that has been proposed for Salem, Mass. Salem is 80 miles north of Borden’s hometown of Fall River, not 80 miles south.