Arkansas Anti-Saloon League

The Arkansas Anti-Saloon League was fully established in 1907 in affiliation with the national Anti-Saloon League, which originated as a state organization in Ohio in 1893. The Arkansas Anti-Saloon League protested saloons in Arkansas and was an influence upon prohibition bills in 1915 and 1917 that turned Arkansas into a dry state.

Before the creation of the national Anti-Saloon League in 1895, a group of men met in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to create an organization to work to prohibit the sale of alcohol in Arkansas. This group formed the No License Association and elected Colonel George A. Thornburgh as president. The No License Association was recognized by the national Anti-Saloon League in 1899, with W. E. Atkinson elected as the next president that same year.

Due to disagreements under Atkinson’s leadership, Thornburgh left the No License Association to form a new organization known as the Inter-Church Temperance Federation in Little Rock in 1906. The federation then began its “Patriotic Hundred” campaign to gather 100 local men and businesses to fundraise for the federation and to become an auxiliary to the national Anti-Saloon League. The No License Association condemned the Federation’s receipt of support from the national organization. The national Anti-Saloon League sided with Thornburgh rather than Atkinson and withdrew its recognition of the No License Association. The national Anti-Saloon League then recognized the Inter-Church Temperance Federation as the official Arkansas Anti-Saloon League in 1907.

The Arkansas Anti-Saloon League elected Thornburgh as its president, and he also became editor of its state newsletter, the Searchlight, in 1907. The state chapter collaborated with the Arkansas Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) for a 1908 local option campaign in Pulaski County by providing prohibition lectures and parades. After the campaign failed, the league changed course, forgoing most local option campaigns to support statewide petitions and legislation, although the league continued its support of local campaigns restricting liquor licenses in some areas.

Although the state chapter remained nonpartisan in the previous gubernatorial race, the Arkansas Anti-Saloon League endorsed the reelection of George Donaghey in 1912 for his support of state prohibition legislation. The league soon proposed a petition to place a state prohibition bill on the ballot. Although the petition was challenged for legal validity, the Arkansas Supreme Court approved the petition to the ballot. Despite its support from the league and Governor Donaghey, the act failed by about 16,000 votes.

In 1913, the Arkansas Anti-Saloon League supported the passage of Senate Bill No. 118, known as the “Going Bill.” This bill, introduced by Senator Clyde Going, required all saloons in Arkansas to reapply for liquor licenses every calendar year by petition. The bill passed and was enacted in 1914. The league then supported the Newberry Act. The bill, introduced by House Representative Farrar Newberry, prohibited the sale and manufacture of alcohol in Arkansas. As the bill passed the state House and Senate, the league was pressured by some who were against the Newberry Act and in favor of keeping the Going Bill. However, Thornburgh and other league members met with Governor Donaghey and convinced him to sign the bill into law in 1915. In 1916, the league conducted a campaign to counter a ballot act that would reintroduce local option to petition local wet areas for liquor licenses. The ballot failed, with 58,064 for and 109,697 against.

Although the Newberry Act prohibited alcohol within the state, there were other legal loopholes that the Arkansas Anti-Saloon League challenged. The Newberry Act did not prohibit alcohol advertisements and shipments from other states. Thornburgh and other league members drafted and sent a bill to Senator Benjamin Harvey Greathouse to remove this loophole. The bill, known as the “Bone Dry” law, passed both houses and was signed into law by Governor Charles Brough in 1917. The state chapter continued to condemn and prosecute bootleggers in Arkansas until prohibition was repealed in 1933.

In 1948, the national and Arkansas chapters of the Anti-Saloon League were renamed the Temperance League. In 1950, the Arkansas Temperance League collaborated with the Arkansas WCTU to form the Arkansas United Drys to pass a state prohibition act by referendum. The act, known as Act No. 2, failed to pass. The Arkansas Temperance League dissolved soon after, with remaining members supporting the national organization, which was renamed the American Council on Alcohol Problems in 1964.

For additional information:
Austin, Kerr. Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

Fondren, Michael. “The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union on Local, State, and Federal Government: An Arkansas Case Study, 1879–1984.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2018.

George A. Thornburgh Scrapbooks (MS T39). Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Johnson, Ben F., III. John Barleycorn Must Die: The War Against Drink in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2005.

Michael Fondren
Fayetteville, Arkansas

Last Updated: 12/16/2019