Anti-Saloon League of Texas

By: K. Austin Kerr

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

After an abortive attempt in 1902, the Texas Anti-Saloon League was formed in 1907. It was headquartered in Dallas; Benjamin Franklin Riley, a Baptist clergyman, was superintendent. The national league had been formed in 1895; it was modeled on the Ohio Anti-Saloon League, which was founded in 1893 to fight for laws prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, and sale of all alcoholic beverages. The Ohio organization focused on the single issue of prohibition, was nonpartisan, and attempted to apply big-business professionalism and bureaucracy to its intended reform. The spread of the league to southern states was slowed by the national officers' objections to segregation. Prohibition organizations, including the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, were already active in Texas, although none adhered to the league's principles of continual expert attention on the single issue.

The Texas Anti-Saloon League quickly embroiled itself in the state's prohibition politics by taking credit in 1907–08 for winning local-option elections to ban the liquor trade in twelve counties. However, it remained an informal organization with only loose ties to the national office, and it was unable to command the state's prohibition forces. Joel H. Gambrell led the league after 1910. Quarrels among Texas drys hurt the cause at the polling booth, and in 1915 the national office reorganized the Texas league and installed new officers.

Under the leadership of Arthur James Barton the Texas league aggressively raised funds and pursued the prohibition cause. The national league assumed the debt of Home and State and turned the paper into the league's voice in Texas. In 1916 the league campaign to initiate state prohibition succeeded with a majority of voters, only to meet defeat in the legislature. The league took credit for adding twelve more counties to the dry column in 1917.

Once national prohibition was won, the Anti-Saloon League in Texas and elsewhere withered, in spite of leaders' pleas to supporters to maintain vigilance. Nationally the league was divided over the question of emphasizing enforcement or education in a dry America. Barton, who had resigned as Texas superintendent in 1918 to be replaced by Atticus Webb, advocated education, and, in fact, in 1927 the state saw an intensive educational campaign begin. In 1928 the Texas league, like its southern counterparts elsewhere, opposed the presidential candidacy of Alfred Smith, an outspoken wet. Although prohibition reduced alcohol consumption and remained widely popular through the 1920s, after the onset of the Great Depression it quickly lost favor. By 1933 the Anti-Saloon League in Texas and elsewhere stood hopelessly by as the repeal movement succeeded. In 1991 the direct descendant of the Texas League was Drug Prevention Resources, Incorporated, based in Dallas.

Ernest H. Cherrington, ed., Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem (6 vols., Westerville, Ohio: American Issue, 1925–30). Lewis L. Gould, Progressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). K. Austin Kerr, Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

K. Austin Kerr, “Anti-Saloon League of Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994

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