Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 117 / Number 3
"To Educate, Agitate, and Legislate’: Baptists, Methodists, and the Anti-Saloon League of Virginia, 1901–1910"
- By Mary Beth Mathews, pp. 214–249
This article chronicles the rise of the Anti-Saloon League of Virginia (ASLVA) and the role denominationalism played in determining the league’s strategy. Founded primarily by Baptists and Methodists in 1901, the ASLVA first concentrated on limited measures to combat saloons in Virginia. But within five years, the league came largely under the control of Methodists who used their centralized organization to move the group’s goal toward statewide prohibition. The article argues against the prevailing historiography that various Protestant denominations happily bonded together to fight “demon rum,” and instead suggests that although they shared a common goal, their denominational structures and their denominational theologies prevented them from working well together. Though other historians have focused on James Cannon, Jr., who later became a Methodist bishop and national figure in the Prohibition movement, the author demonstrates that Cannon would not have enjoyed such success without the support of the hierarchy of the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In doing so, she turns our attention away from individuals and toward the competing motives of Progressive-era reformers.