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The fire in Virginia, 1936-1938

Like many other legislatures around the country, Virginia's state house faced the post-Repeal dilemma of what to do about alcohol-related instruction in publicly-supported schools. Virginia's efforts, however, had an unusual and, for some, foreboding outcome. Two Virginia pharmacology professors--J.A. Waddell and H.B. Haag--fulfilling the wishes of the legislature as framed in a 1936 resolution, completed a report of the most current and reliable scientific information regarding the effects of alcohol on man. The contents of this report caused so great a flurry of Dry reaction that the legislature voted to have the report burned in the capitol furnace, which burning occurred on 26 April 1938. In Virginia, the story was big news. But the event did not get wide press coverage outside the State--indeed, a search using a number of key words of the New York Times Index and the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature was fruitless (*1).

Yet the event may have deserved more note, for it marked the country's first dramatic post-Repeal encounter between a nontemperance or mainstream scientific assessment of beverage alcohol and the longstanding hegemony of Dry or "scientific temperance" thought in relation to alcohol education in public schools. Nontemperance science, it seems, lost this battle.  Though contemporary medical and scientific reaction in Virginia to the burning appears to have been mild (see, for example, "Alcohol," 1938) and professors Waddell and Haag did not personally participate in the controversy, these Virginia events would before long have consequences on the wider, nationally-based scientific community.  It was from the disturbing memory of the Virginia report-burning, that a number of interested and influential American scientists drew the inference that any new scientific adventure into the same topic area would require a scientific force large enough and authoritative enough to overcome this sort of vigorous and still politically potent Dry resistance.


In its 1936 legislative session, Virginia's General Assembly passed a resolution sponsored by Senator Hunsdon Cary requesting the University of Virginia and the Medical College of Virginia "to make...the necessary investigation and study" in order to furnish the State Board of Education "for use by it as a basis for material to be taught in the public schools, accurate information as to the effect of the use of alcohol upon the human system, in respect to both moderate and excessive use thereof" (quoted from Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 5).  The resolution cited three reasons for its action:  first, "the effects of alcohol upon the human system are required by the law to be taught in the public schools of Virginia"; second, "due to the apparent differences of opinion existing among medical authorities upon this subject, the State Board of Education does not have the necessary material for the purpose"; and, third, "the General Assembly believes that the faculties of the Medical School of the University of Virginia and the Medical College of Virginia are qualified and equipped to furnish accurate information upon this important subject."  Two four-person committees were assembled at each institution. From the University of Virginia Medical Department came J.C. Cash, J.C. Flippin, J.A. Waddell, and D.C. Wilson; from the Medical College of Virginia came H.B. Haag, W.B. Porter, L.E. Sutton, Jr., and F.J. Wampler. Waddell (professor of "pharmacology, materia medica, and toxicology") and Haag (professor of pharmacology) would emerge as the chief authors of this report and, later, the book derived from it (Waddell and Haag, 1938).  Their report was completed by December 1937.

In their preface, Waddell and Haag attempted to define precisely their purposes and outline the historical context for their work. The legislative resolution mandating their project, they asserted, harbored the obvious implication that "our Legislators do not feel that the current text-books and the instruction based on them is scientifically correct" (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 8).  The situation, they wrote, was not new. In 1901 the Committee of Fifty had characterized alcohol-related textbooks and instruction as being "misleading, inaccurate, and unscientific."  "In the years that have elapsed since that investigation," Waddell and Haag wrote, "little improvement has been made" (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 8). The sources of the "deficiencies and inaccuracies" in this area of instruction were several, according to the authors. Ironically, the enforced brevity of the alcohol sections in contemporary textbooks had to shoulder much of the blame.

This is due to a large extent to the demand for brevity on the part of the publishers, who in turn have to cater to the demands of the school authorities.  The endeavor is made to cram the topic into a few pages of a primary book and to cover the instruction in one or two short class periods of the primary grades, so that both the author and the teacher, even if well informed, feel that they have space only for the fearful. This gives the pupil little real information--only transient fear.  He is taught that alcohol regardless of all consideration of time and frequency of ingestion, of quantity and concentration, and of age and state of health is a poison and as such always produces terrible effects; that the dire consequences of over-indulgence are the sequels of any consumption whatsoever.  At some time later in life the pupil observes that all who use alcoholic beverages are not drunkards, and do not misbehave, are not sick, and do not "go" crazy. The resulting influence on the young mind is far from wholesome (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 8).
The authors also noted that because Virginia--after Repeal, a monopoly state--had become a "dispenser of alcohol, it should become equally a dispenser of knowledge concerning its effects, providing more than is currently prescribed by law in most states and much more than is legally required in Virginia, which specifies consideration only 'of the evil effects'" (Waddell and Haag, 1938, pp. 8-9).  Waddell and Haag wanted to upgrade the education by focusing it at higher grade levels and college, where a more scientific appraisal of the subject could be done. They noted that their contribution was not the result of original research but instead a
compilation of the observations and conclusions gleaned from the most worthwhile and unbiased of the world's scientific literature of the past two decades. In general, it embraces such information as is common knowledge among physicians and constitutes an essential part of the training of medical students, nurses, and public health officials....It aims to present as concisely as is consistent with accuracy the current medical opinion respecting alcohol and the alcoholic beverages from the standpoint both of their physiological actions and their uses and abuses (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 9).
Two notable dilemmas, the authors wrote, had been encountered in the report's preparation. First, scientific knowledge was itself in "a state of flux" concerning alcohol. "In these instances the authors have endeavored to cull reasonably conservative deductions from the studies at hand" (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 10). Second, it had been difficult to specify accurately the divide between "moderate" and "immoderate" alcohol use. In this connection the authors stressed the all-important place of individual variation in responses to alcohol as a beclouding factor in precisely defining moderation. They quoted a recent number of the Journal of the American Medical Association and its discussion of the moderation issue:
Perhaps the best definition of what constitutes a temperate use of alcoholic beverages is the amount that can be taken by the individual without obvious deleterious effect. Because individuals differ so much to begin with, and because the amount of alcohol tolerated by the habituated person is so different from that which can be taken by the abstainer, it is impossible to say what can be taken safely by the average person. As every one knows, there are thousands of men and women who are made dizzy and uncomfortable by two cocktails, and then again there are persons who can drink a quart of whiskey in an evening without showing any sign of alcoholism (quoted in Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 9).
In its book form, Waddell and Haag's report covered ten chapters and a brief 184 pages. After a short introduction to alcohol itself, its major beverage types, and a thumbnail history of its use (Chapter 1), the authors devoted the largest portion of their efforts to a review of alcohol's impact on each of the major bodily organ systems--considered in turn were the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, urinary, digestive, skin, and reproductive systems (Chapters 2-6). The book's final four chapters examined topics not covered in the system-by-system review: Chapter 7 (titled "Miscellaneous Topics Pertinent to the Action of Alcohol on the Body") examined alcohol's metabolism and food value and impact on the body's resistance to disease; Chapter 8 examined "acute alcoholism" (offering a detailed description of four stages of intoxication--euphoria, excitement, depression, and paralysis) and "chronic alcoholism" (reviewing disease conditions commonly found in chronic inebriates); Chapter 9 examined statistical data pertinent to alcohol and its effects--including "consumption of alcoholic beverages, drunkenness, accidents, crime, mental disease, and mortality" (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 12); and, finally, Chapter 10 offered a variety of quotations from recognized scientific and other authorities regarding various aspects of the alcohol problem.

Both Drys and Wets could have drawn rhetorical ammunition from Waddell and Haag's results. Most favorable for Wet opinion was probably the fact that the authors had by and large given moderate drinking a clean bill of health. Over and over, their painstaking reviews of each organ system concluded that alcohol in small quantities had no appreciable bad consequences. Moreover, alcohol's putative responsibility for several diseases were reviewed and--in step with current medical opinion--occasionally challenged. For example, with regard to liver cirrhosis the authors noted that medical opinion had once blamed this condition largely on alcohol, but more recent investigations had "very definitely indicated that it is only an occasional cause, being responsible for not more than 5% of the cases" (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 75). A similar position was taken with respect to alcohol's role in kidney disease (see p. 65). Also favoring Wet opinion and in step with contemporary scientific thought was Waddell and Haag's relatively favorable stance toward beer (p. 19). "A bottle of beer of the strength usually available with its low alcoholic content would have little, if any, effect as an intoxicant on the average person" (p. 19), though very sensitive individuals might feel its effects. On the whole, the authors concluded that "beer is the safest of the alcoholic beverages, since it is little apt to produce drunkenness and give rise to the alcoholic habit" (p. 19).

Dry ammunition, on the other hand, included that Waddell and Haag had employed a remarkably restrictive and no doubt experientially unrealistic standard of moderate drinking in their examinations. Though Waddell and Haag explicitly resisted a single consumption standard in defining moderate and immoderate consumption and made repeated references to variability across individuals and circumstances, nevertheless they did offer the following definitions for "the average person" (see Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 102):

1. A moderate drinker, sometimes called a temperate drinker.--This is a person who does not consume a sufficient quantity to noticably affect his behavior or alter his reflexes. It corresponds to about 0.01% in the blood and approximately to a consumption of one ounce of whiskey or one bottle of beer.

2. An immoderate drinker.--In this case, the individual ingests a sufficient quantity to exhibit on close examination the initial effects of alcohol. He is somewhat deficient in accuracy and attention and his coordination suffers. It corresponds to 0.02%-0.03% in the blood and approximately to a drink of two ounces of whiskey or two bottles of beer.

3. An excessive drinker.--Here we have to deal with one who is undoubtedly under the influence of alcohol. He cannot control his feelings or actions, and is a menace to himself and to others. This corresponds to 0.15% in the blood and approximately to a tumbler glassful of whiskey or 7 bottles of beer.

Though it is not clear from their text that this standard was always employed in their appraisals of drinking's impact on bodily systems, Waddell and Haag had certainly set a standard for moderation that amounted, in some eyes at least, to "virtual abstinence" ("A Brief," 1938). The Richmond News Leader titled one of their editorials on Waddell and Haag's book, "A Brief for Temperance," noting that what "normally is styled 'moderation'--a drink of whiskey or a bottle or two of beer a day--is described as, at the least, a means of reducing longevity" ("A Brief," 1938). "The book explodes some of the popular theories that specific diseases are attributable solely to excessive drinking," the editorial continued,
but it leaves not the slightest doubt that the use of alcohol at any time and in any other than in what be termed microscopic volume is physically unwise and morally dangerous. Short of maintaining the untenable view that alcohol should never be used in any quantity for any purpose, the preponderant testimony given against strong drink in the book makes it as strong a paper as any temperance organization could desire ("A Brief," 1938, p. 8).
Indeed, Waddell and Haag's handling of the moderate/immoderate divide could be regarded as one of the book's chief intellectual weak points. If moderate drinking were equated with vanishingly light alcohol intake, then findings pertaining to moderation could have no real-world referent. Ironically, the authors had said as much in their own introduction to the vexatious divide. "We must not lose sight of the fact that in all considerations dealing with the effects or actions of alcohol," they wrote,
the intensity of these always depends on the concentration in which it reaches the tissues as well as the total quantity. An ounce of alcohol mixed with a gallon of water would not produce any effects; it would be inactive. But an ounce of alcohol in an ounce of water would be definitely active. We must then keep in mind throughout all of our considerations the total quantity and the concentration. This fact is often lost sight of when discussions concerning alcohol are entered into. Temperance writers and orators, overlooking this, unintentionally make misleading and even false statements. To repeat, it is not just alcohol in any infinitesimal quantity which is harmful, but it is alcohol in sufficient quantity and sufficient concentration (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 34).
But if temperance advocates had erred in equating any alcohol intake with danger, Waddell and Haag could hardly avoid the criticism that they had equated harmless consumption with near-abstention. Both equations tended to confuse the issue of realistically-defined moderate drinking's meaning and safety.

Other findings might also have cheered Drys. For example, Waddell and Haag's narrative did not shy away from granting scientific authority to a variety of popular or traditional views of the effects of alcohol that, at best, could be regarded as on the fringes of authoritative scientific intellectual jurisdiction. In particular, alcohol's relations with human mental and moral phenomena stretched the boundaries of scientific knowledge and authority--perhaps indicating just how wide was the carpet for scientific authority willingly laid down by public opinion in the mid-1930s. A particularly good example of this stretching occurred in Waddell and Haag's handling of the crucial topic of alcohol's impact on human inhibitions. The authors wrote:

Alcohol depresses...inhibitory-control. This is the most acute effect of all those produced by alcohol. Hence, under its influence a person very early loses the usual restraints that have made him reserved, quiet and considerate of others. He may now betray secrets, exhibit vulgarity and become ill mannered. It is well said that "there is truth in wine" for being released from this controlling influence the individual betrays his real personality as it would be if he were stripped of the influences of inheritance and education. Dr. Jekyll becomes a Mr. Hyde (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 51).
Proper behavioral inhibition, Waddell and Haag argued, was a higher evolutionary achievement and a mark--quite literally--of good breeding. Their case for inhibition's evolutionary virtue and pedigree included two animal examples--that of the headless crab and the pointing bird-dog. "The decapitated crab," they pointed out, "will use its claws to force food into its mouth and continue to swallow until its stomach actually bursts open" (Waddell and Haag, 1938, p. 51). The authors saw this as evidencing the biological world's need for cerebrally based self-control. The pointing bird-dog, on the other hand, illustrated the biological correlation between breeding, education, and self-control:
The development and efficiency of inhibition is greater the higher the species is in the biological scale. Among individuals of the same species it is most efficient in those which have the best background by inheritance and in those who by training or education have had to use it most. This is well illustrated in the case of bird dogs. These animals as a result of breeding and training on seeing a partridge will stop instantly and make a "stand," thus inhibiting the natural inclination of the dog to rush in and kill. After the hunter shoots the bird these dogs may then rush out, pick up the game and bring it back intact to the master, thus inhibiting the inclination to eat even though very hungry (Waddell and Haag, 1938, pp. 51, 53).


Newspaper accounts of the newly completed report appeared in the Washington Star and the Richmond Times-Dispatch (*2) on 28 December 1937 "about two weeks before the general assembly of 1938 convened" (Dabney, 1938). These reports told that the State Board of Education was pleased with the report's contents--calling the work a "most valuable contribution...scientifically sound and very scholarly" (quoted in Dabney, 1938, p. 75)--and suggested that 10,000 copies be printed (Dabney, 1938). The report's published summary included a number of moderationist-sounding assertions--including that "we cannot abolish drinking by legislation nor frighten a person into sobriety" and that alcohol was not a poison and that drinking in moderation was often harmless (quoted in Dabney, 1938). A front-page story in the Richmond Times-Despatch ran the title "Demon Rum Dehorned in Textbook," and began,

The Demon Rum, heretofore presented to school children as a monster of evil per se, will be introduced to Virginia schools as a beverage generally harmless in moderation, if a new textbook approved by the State Board of Education is adopted by the General Assembly for public school use ("Demon," 1937, p. 1).
This Richmond Times-Dispatch article focused on seeming rifts between this new, scientific examination of alcohol and conventional wisdom as scientific temperance had presented it in the past. For example, the article quoted the Waddell/Haag report to the effect (1) that "moderate use 'does not shorten the life span' and 'probably plays no important part in the perpetration of lawlessness'" ("Demon," 1937, p. 1), (2) that past textbook treatments of alcohol suffered "'inaccuracies and deficiencies,'" (3) that young people should not and would not be frightened into abstinence by inaccurate and misleading educational material, and (4) that "[t]he solution to the liquor problem... lies in 'education without bias and that is informative and not merely a doctrine of fear'" ("Demon," 1937, p. 4).

A massive letter-writing and petition campaign, the latter collecting "thousands and thousands" (Dabney, 1938, p. 75) of signatures, was quickly organized by the state's Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and Anti-Saloon League (ASL). Ed J. Richardson, Superintendent of the Virginia ASL, "was out at once with a denunciation of the report, on the ground that it taught 'a very dangerous doctrine of moderation'" (Dabney, 1938, p. 75; also "Richardson," 1937). This massive outpouring of Dry sentiment caught the legislature off-guard and, as noted already, prompted an anti-report movement before the document had been formally presented to the legislature and read by its membership. The legislature's first negative action with respect to the report came in the form of a Senate resolution "against publication of the report in pamphlet form for distribution among schools of the State" (Jones, 1938, p. 1), introduced in the Senate's session of 28 January 1938. This measure--sponsored by Senator Leonard G. Muse--was necessary to avoid the impression that the Senate had placed its "official stamp" of approval on the Waddell/Haag report. "I understand that its general import is to discredit the use of alcohol," Muse argued, "but certain scientific facts included in it, if not understood, may be misleading and damaging to young minds" (Jones, 1938, p. 1). Muse's resolution was referred to committee for further study. Senator Morton C. Goode argued that the report's fate should not be settled before senators had had the chance to read it (Jones, 1938, p. 3). Senator Vivian Page argued that "whisky was a drug that could not be handled in moderation." As Jones (1938, p. 3) conveyed Page's words and the senate scene:

'It can't be done, Mr. President, as you and I well know.' Amid an uproar from his fellow members, the senator added in a serious voice that he thought 'we should teach the children of Virginia that they should never touch a drop of alcohol as long as they live, and that their first drink will be their worst.'
A Senate committee acted first and voted unanimously to "exclude such a pernicious document from the school system" (Dabney, 1938, p. 75). Only a single senator, Hunsdon Cary, had actually read the document. And despite objections that the report should not be rejected unread, the Senate voted "not to allow its own members or anybody else as a public document" (Dabney, 1938, p. 76; also "Senate," 1938). On 1 March 1938, the Senate voted to assign the copyright for the document to its authors and destroy its state-funded edition of 1,000 copies. The measure was sent from the Senate to the House for its consideration. A Richmond News Leader ("Rarest," 1938, p. 8) editorial burned with embarrassment and indignation:
Until the House committee acts, it is impossible to gauge the precise measure of humiliation to which the Commonwealth of Virginia will be subjected in the suppression of the Haag-Waddell report on temperance education. We had hoped that, while declining to endorse the report as a school-text, the General Assembly would at least maintain free speech by insisting on the publication of the paper as a Senate document. Now it appears that because of some mysterious complications of the copyright law, the greater part of the State edition is to be destroyed, and only a small number of presentation copies for the authors are to be delivered. The report, edito prima, manifestly will become the rarest of modern Viginiana...but what will the readers of that rarity think of Virginia's lack of respect for the declaration of rights?
The Senate resolution called for only five copies of the original report to be preserved ("House," 1938, p. 1). In a passionate debate on the House floor, delegate L.P. Collins opposed concurrence with the Senate's resolution on grounds that refusing Waddell and Haag's report would be "a travesty upon right, and would represent cowardice on the part of the General Assembly" ("House," 1938, p. 1). Collins reiterated that the report contained ample warnings of alcohol's pernicious effects, noting (somewhat perilously), for example, that it affirmed that "alcohol is such a strong habit-forming agency that the first drink is dangerous" ("House," 1938, p. 1). Collins concluded that it "was not right to ask two scientists from two Virginia institutions to gather scientific data and then 'to slap them in the face, because they did not embody in it what we wanted them to.'"

In fact, 1,000 copies of the report had already been printed by the State, but copies were not to be distributed and were being "closely guarded" ("House," 1938, p. 33). Delegate Maitland Bustard, of Danville, introduced a resolution that copies of the report be furnished to House and Senate members, which passed. A contemporary newspaper report explained the potential consequences.

The copyright resolution, if adopted, will mean the expunging of the report from the list of documents, and the destruction of any copies that may have been printed except five that were to be supplied the authors for their private use. The report therefore may never see the light unless the House acts and prints it as a house document or unless the authors publish it somehow ("House," 1938, p. 33).
By the afternoon of 10 March 1938 printed copies of the report were distributed to legislators--newspaper reporters were refused copies from the State Printing Office but could secure some from friendly legislators "after signing an acknowledgement of receipt" ("Liquor," 1938, p. 1). Legislators requesting extra copies "were informed none were available" ("Liquor," 1938, p. 1). Though Delegate Collins sought to reverse the Senate's resolution and return the report to its original use--"as a source of information for the State Board of Education" ("Liquor," 1938, p. 1)--re-intensified WCTU activity helped defeat Collins' resolution and by 12 March the House had voted to concur with the Senate resolution (Dabney, 1938, p. 76). The 1,000-copy state edition of the report was duly burned in the Capitol furnaces on 26 April 1938. The Richmond News Leader carried a front-page picture, subtitled "Censorship in Virginia" (1938), showing Pearne Ketron, Director of the Division of Purchase and Printing, Assistant Attorney General Joseph L. Kelly, Charles R. Lewis, and Fireman William Beagle "doing the stoking" ("Censorship," 1938).

Some saw the joint resolution ordering the burning as implying that State legislators themselves had to turn over their copies of the report. A number of legislators made public their displeasure with this aspect of the bill. "Wary of any possible recall of their copies of the report," writes Jones (1938b, p. 4) in a newspaper review of the whole affair,

delegates...looked to their rights. One member said that for the first time in several sessions he'd locked his desk--with his Haag-Waddell report inside. Another said it would take a bevy of process servers to get his copy. Another said curtly, 'just let 'em try it.'
I have seen no record of a subsequent state effort to retrieve these reports. One Dry-leaning senator, John W. Rust, laid the blame for the Waddell/Haag controversy at the feet of the Senate itself. "I think the whole trouble," commented Rust,
is that we were unfortunate in asking the gentlemen to report as stated in our resolution of 1936. We asked for a report on the moderate use of alcohol, and the moderate use of alcohol is just what we don't want taught in the schools (Jones, 1938, p. 1).
Waddell and Haag were awarded the work's copyright and subsequently arranged for its publication by the William Byrd Press. This book went through at least three editions, the third being published on 14 April 1940. It was also adopted for use by the state of Vermont's public schools in March 1939 but dropped by May of the same year (*3).


In what must be one of the most remarkable coincidences of the story of the modern alcoholism movement, the Dry Scientific Temperance Journal (STJ), published by the Scientific Temperance Federation originally founded by Mary Hunt, reviewed two new books in a single 1939 issue: Waddell and Haag's (1938) notorious report (now published in book form) and the so-called "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous (1939). These were arguably the first documents issued by the two sides of the science-and-lay-treatment coalition that would in due course give rise to the modern alcoholism movement. Oddly enough, neither book was evaluated wholly unfavorably. About Alcoholics Anonymous, the reviewer defended the book against the charge it was "unscientific," a charge appearing in a recent medical journal's negative review (*4).

The review of Waddell and Haag's (1938) book had a positive tone, too, though the author seemed to walk a rhetorical tightrope to achieve it (Review, 1939). One senses that the reviewer recognized an implicit but unavoidable dilemma faced by the Dry, scientific-temperance camp in assessing Waddell and Haag's (1938) new book. On the one hand, the STJ was committed to the publication of purely scientific and authoritative studies of alcohol-related issues by qualified scientists; on the other hand, it was equally committed to a pro-abstinence pedagogic objective. Now come two qualified and mainstream scientists presenting a work laden with scientific authority but little or no temperance commitment. For the SJT to reject the work out of hand would tend to threaten its claim to scientific authority; on the other hand, to welcome and applaud the work would undermine the Journal's commitment to abstinence. The situation offered perilously little room for rhetorical maneuvering, but the reviewer made clever use of the available rhetorical resources.

The reviewer lauded the scientific performances of the authors and criticized the scientific charge they had been assigned by the Virginia legislature. "The book has been severely criticised [sic] because it implies license to drink," the reviewer wrote.

In the first place, it must be remembered that the commission given the authors was to write of the effects of alcohol in moderation and excess. This commission they have carried out in a scholarly way. Excuse can be found in the text perhaps for those who want it, to indulge moderately in alcohol. Unfortunately, the point is not over-stressed that moderate indulgence too often leads to immoderate indulgence because of the effect that alcohol has in destroying the power to resist it. Nevertheless, sufficient evidence is given in the text for any normal minded pupil who does any thinking for himself to find ample proof that alcohol is better left alone (Review, 1939, p. 56).
This passage is of interest in a number of respects, but perhaps its most intriguing aspect relates to the relative importance and emphasis placed on alcohol addiction by the reviewer and by the book's authors--and by extension by temperance-science, on the one hand, and nontemperance or mainstream science, on the other. Notice that in this case it is the temperance-science advocate who is urging greater stress on alcohol addiction and the mainstream scientists who are being mildly chided for not emphasizing the phenomenon quite enough. The reason is that the risk or prospect of alcohol addiction (which, in the temperance-science eye, is equivalent to alcohol's inherently addictive properties) makes steady-state moderate drinking more problematic to achieve and to recommend. On the mainstream science side, however, to attempt a purely objective and evenhanded evaluation of "moderate" drinking implies that alcohol's addictive potential is benign or nil, at least for most drinkers.

The divide between the two perspectives is particularly enlightening because it shows how both camps might evidence keen, but sharply different, interests in the phenomenon of alcohol addiction in the post-Repeal era. Drys could look with interest toward the phenomenon because, in their conceptual framework, addiction offered the weak link in Wet claims that moderate drinking was potentially unproblematic; Wets, on the other hand, could be drawn to alcohol addiction as a focus of interest because only in the presence of addiction was drinking, per se, likely to be problematic. This division of opinion, moreover, may have harbored the potential for a temporary modus vivendi between Drys and Wets based on a shared commitment to the greater need for attention to alcohol addiction.

But the reviewer did not actually take the review in this direction. Instead, the reviewer mused about the following apparent puzzle in Waddell and Haag's thinking: If, in effect, these authors had amply demonstrated that--save for very tiny quantities--alcohol is bad, why then had they not simply advocated abstinence outright? Even universally recognized poisons, the reviewer might have said, could be consumed in such small quantities and in so dilute a form as to be rendered harmless. If that was, in fact, the character of Waddell and Haag's conclusion about alcohol--that it was safe only in very small quantities and very diluted--then why not draw the inevitable conclusion that alcohol could also be regarded as a poison or virtually a poison?


The Virginia debacle had strong similarities to Colby's frustrating experience with the Council for Moderation. No matter how restrictively Waddell and Haag (1938) defined moderate drinking and no matter how many caveats they offered, still Drys seemed to see only that they had not condemned all drinking--and so rejected the book out of hand. What was unusual about the Virginia controversy was that Drys had appeared to win it. Certainly most onlookers saw the event as anomalous, even in its own day.

This Dry victory happened against a background of Dry defeats, declining influence, and even impatience with raising the subject of alcohol in ordinary conversation. Dabney's (1938) fine article's title, "The Ghost Has Not Gone Wet," is, one guesses, a play on the expression, "giving up the ghost," meaning "finally expiring and accepting of that expiration"--it asserting that Drys had not wholly accepted cultural expiration. Allen's (1968) contemporaneous account also makes a point of the whole affair's mild anachronism. The Virginia controversy's focus on children, youth, and public schools--a cultural theater where the temperance movement's taste for in loco parentis actions had substantial popular backing--no doubt played a part in tipping the scales toward a Dry victory.

But Drys lost ground too. In fact, the Waddell and Haag report had been destroyed (rather than merely shelved) in order to give the authors clear copyright rights, so clearing the path for private publication and sales. But the furnace flames evoked old images of censorship, fascism, and even religious persecution. Indeed, it is notable that newspaper coverage of the controversy seems to have enjoyed emphasizing a religion-versus-science axis, perhaps gently poking fun at both sides for the conflict's circus-like air. Several newspaper article titles--e.g., "Demon Rum Dehorned In Textbook," "Richardson Raps Dehorners; Book on Alcohol Dissected," and "Drink Report Again Raises Senate Fever"'--conveyed something of this motif. Even the acrimonious conflict between the legislature's Senate and House over whether the book should be condemned unread echoed of a wider and religiously rooted value conflict between knowledge and faith. Like Colby's experience, the Virginia events revealed little common ground upon which Wets, Drys, and uncommitteds might build a new consensus around beverage alcohol.

Above all else the controversy had illuminated a singularly remarkable and potentially unsettling aspect of science's relation to the alcohol question. The exercise of declaring which particular problem science should address would in the end largely determine the kinds of results science achieved. Problem definition, moreover, was an open-ended aspect of scientific method--meaning science and scientific authority per se did not and could not specify which problem one's research should address. It followed that setting science's problem agenda was subject to strong extra-scientific influences. And since problem-setting was as important to the outcome of a research enterprise as the research itself, science could not always be relied upon to generate the results one desired. Particularly temperance-science advocates--with their often-avowed commitment to "scientific truth" and their greater epistemological affinity for absolutes--might be shaken by Virginia's message that science could not always be relied upon to generate the same answers, the true answers, nor the morally agreeable answers in regard to alcohol.


(*1) The event is all but forgotten in alcohol studies as well. I chanced upon mention of it in Frederick Lewis Allen's Since Yesterday (1968), whose entire account read:

Here and there a new wave of dry sentiment appeared be forming. In Virginia, for instance, a scholarly book on the effects of alcohol, which was to have been distributed to the schools as a public document, came to the shocked attention of the WCTU at the end of 1937. Because the book contained such statements as, 'It has been proved that we cannot abolish drinking by legislation nor frighten a person into sobriety' and 'small quantities [of alcohol] may favor digestive activities,' the WCTU exerted pressure on the legislature and the whole edition was solemnly burned in the Capitol furnace. In most communities, however, what had been a lively issue till 1933, had dropped almost completely out of the focus of general public attention, as if settled once and for all....Could it really have been true, the men and women of 1939 asked themselves, that in 1929 Prohibition had been the topic of hottest debate in American public life (Allen, 1968, p. 118).
Allen cited a single article (Dabney, 1938) in an obscure and short-lived periodical named Ken.

(*3) There may have been other general-circulation newspaper reports as well.

(*4) Vermont's short-lived interest is noted in a card-catalogue reference kindly provided to me by Conley L. Edwards at the Virginia State Library and Archives.

(*5) This was probably a reference to the somewhat negative review in the 14 October 1939 Journal of the American Medical Association.

To Chapter VII...