The Temperance Movement’s Advice Columnist and the Radical Social Shift of the 1920’s

The Temperance Movement’s Advice Columnist and the Radical Social Shift of the 1920’s

The Temperance Movement’s Advice Columnist and the Radical Social Shift of the 1920’s

If you had lived in the 1920’s and had questions about love, sex, or life in general, you might have been tempted to write a letter to “Doris Blake” who wrote advice columns for the Chicago Daily Tribune.  You certainly couldn’t legally go out for a drink with your friends and hash out the issue, right?  Doris Blake was only a pen name, though, and the advice was given by Antoinette Donnelly, whose voice mirrors the social upheaval happening in 1920’s Chicago.

Donnelly, a/k/a Blake, advised one young woman to refrain from kissing a man she had been dating, “save your kisses and embraces,” and to “keep your kisses for the man who asks you to marry him.”  Donnelly was not shy about advising both men and women to in matters of the heart, but because it was Chicago and the 1920’s, she also weighed in on questions about alcohol.

“If he drinks, you’d better not accept an engagement ring from him,” she wrote one young woman, cautioning her that a man that cannot conform to the Prohibition laws is a poor citizen with a costly habit.  In 1924, she told a bartender that his girlfriend was right to quarrel with him.  The girlfriend might just object to bailing her boyfriend out of jail, since, “our prohibition agents are getting in some fine work these days.”  Donnelly’s opinions seem completely ridiculous and sexist now, but even by the changing social norms of the 1920’s, it’s clear she was writing for an audience of older, more conservative readers than those she was allegedly helping.

Alcohol, according to Donnelly, was fourth on the list of reasons people divorced.  The sixth most likely cause was “physical mismating.”  Of course we have no idea what “mismating” is, but it might be caused by alcohol in 2019!  Donnelly was the complete opposite of a flapper, as different as sweet tea from a Long Island ice tea.  She was a woman enthralled with feminine clothes, and adamantly opposed to the flapper, as she described a “militant, right-demanding creature”.

Donnelly’s opinions on Prohibition never evolved.  As late as 1931, she was counseling a twenty-year old man who felt isolated by his friends because he was the only man among them that didn’t drink.  What Prohibition needed, Donnelly told the writer, was for more young, “inexperienced eyes” to question the glamour associated with drinking.  And what the writer needed was a “strong girl influence” to keep him from drinking with his friends.  In fact, drinking with your husband and his business partners might undo a young husband’s ambitions.  “Liquor drinking among women registers the biggest failure of all their modern efforts at establishing equality with men.”

We’ve come a long way, Chicago!  So hike up those hemlines, dress however you’d like and admit that there’s a lot of fucking glamour in holding the right drink in your hand!

Written by Amy Williams

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