Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

W. Bruce Wheeler

Committee Members

John Muldowny, Paul H. Bergeron


The purpose of this study was to determine if the experiences of Knoxville, Tennessee in dealing with prohibition during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were significantly different from those of the state, the South, or the nation. Knoxville was selected because of the lack of research conducted on prohibition in the city, the first of the state's large cities to close its open saloons.

Data from Knoxville newspapers between 1870 and 1907 were relied upon heavily, as well as information from the United States census, and Knoxville voter registration records and city directories. A ward-by-ward analysis of the 1907 prohibition referendum proved essential to the findings and conclusions.

The major findings of the research were that the prohibition experiences of Knoxville were far less important than what the evolutionary process revealed about the social, economic, and political development of the city. The tree-phase prohibition campaign which lasted approximately four decades was, with certain minor variations, the same across Tennessee, the South, and the United States. Knoxvillians accepted the concept as early as 1887, but had to wait until political conditions in the state were conducive to bring about the desired reform. Businessmen, clergymen, and women were important to the campaign effort, but the pivotal role in the battle for prohibition was played by the city's proportionately high Black population.

The makeup of these factions was not only important to the prohibition campaign, but to development of the city as well. The Knoxville business elite had its roots in those former Union soldiers who, after spending time in the city during the Civil War, tied their futures to that of Knoxville. Clashing with the city's noveau riche were migrant from the nearby rural areas of East Tennessee. These two groups battled each other for control of the city's growth and development, uniting most often in opposition to Blacks.

The conclusions of the study were that Blacks played a very significant part in the social, economic, and political development of Knoxville. The city's Black population was continually made powerless by the steady encroachments of the white labor force and political leaders. The prohibition campaign was a microcosm of the city's social, economic, and political development.

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