Prohibition began in West Virginia in 1914, years before it was a reality for the nation as a whole. Supporters had long tried to prohibit the sale of alcohol in the state. In 1883, a prohibition amendment passed the House of Delegates by a 49-14 vote but was defeated in the Senate, 15-11. In 1888, a prohibition amendment to the state constitution was defeated during the general election by 34,887 votes.
By 1910, 37 of the state’s 55 counties were completely dry or allowed the prohibition of the sale of liquor under local option laws. In 1911, the legislature approved the submission of another prohibition amendment to the people. This time it was ratified, in the general election of November 1912, by a majority vote of 92,342 votes. Statewide prohibition became law at midnight June 30, 1914.
The prohibition law, article 6, section 46, of the state constitution, rigidly controlled all products containing even small amounts of alcohol. The few exceptions were in the field of pharmaceuticals and in religious practices. State prohibition was enforced under the Yost Law, passed by the legislature in 1913 and creating the Department of Prohibition.
As prohibition spread among the states Congress adopted the Webb-Kenyon Act of 1913, which made it illegal to ship intoxicants via interstate commerce from wet states to dry states. In 1917, the Reed ‘‘bone-dry’’ amendment to the Post Office Appropriation Act forbade liquor shipment into states that prohibited manufacture and sale within the state but allowed importing.
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. constitution finally brought full national prohibition. On January 8, 1919, the West Virginia legislature ratified the 18th Amendment, by a Senate vote of 26-0 and a House vote of 81-3. West Virginia became the 21st state to ratify the prohibition amendment. National prohibition became effective under the Volstead Act on January 16, 1920.
In 1934, the prohibition law was repealed. West Virginia voters approved amendments to the state constitution bringing it in line with the U.S. constitution, once again allowing for the manufacture, sale, and transporting of alcoholic beverages within the state. Many locations remain partly dry today, however, including several towns, all of Calhoun County, and the rural areas of several other counties. In these places wine and liquor cannot be sold by the bottle but may be consumed in bars and restaurants. Beer is available throughout West Virginia.
This Article was written by Mary Merolle
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Conley, Phil, ed. West Virginia Encyclopedia. Charleston: West Virginia Publishing, 1929.
Report of the State Commissioner of Prohibition. 4th Biennial Report 1921-22.
Report of the State Commissioner of Prohibition. 6th Biennial Report 1925-26.