Monday, November 19, 2012

The Wrong Side of Jessie Jack Hooper

Jessie Jack Hooper, 1890 
In yesterday’s Northwestern was a short article admiring Jessie Jack Hooper, the Oshkosh suffragette and peace activist who came to prominence in the early 1900s. As outlined in the story, Hooper was a progressive with a keen sense of social equality and justice. On most of the issues she held dear, Hooper landed on the right side of history. But left out of the Northwestern piece was a less savory aspect of Hooper’s activism: she was a Prohibitionist. When it came to the question of booze, Jessie Jack Hooper’s egalitarianism went out the window.

Hooper lived on Algoma Blvd., neighbor to the Paines and Sawyers, and was part of the affluent, old guard in Oshkosh. Her sworn enemies were the German-American brewers and as a nativist, she seemed to have few qualms about restricting the rights of ethnic, working-class populations. In 1922, three years into Prohibition, Hooper neatly summed up her stiff-necked views concerning Prohibition’s infringement upon individual rights saying, "People are talking about personal liberty. We know that that is a joke. There is not a person in the world who has personal liberty.” Odd words coming from the mouth of a person who had spent the previous decade fighting for a woman’s right to vote.

At first glance, it seems Hooper was absolutely blind to her own hypocrisy concerning Prohibition. In 1917, the Milwaukee Journal reported that Hooper had confronted an unnamed Congressman who opposed both Prohibition and women’s suffrage. Hooper told the Congressman that if he didn’t believe in the prohibition of alcohol, he shouldn’t believe in prohibiting women from voting. Apparently, Hooper thought the same logic didn’t apply to her own set of beliefs.

Hooper’s skewed reasoning makes slightly more sense when she explained the rationale for supporting Prohibition. “Prohibition was not passed as a moral issue, but as a straight economic issue,” Hooper said in 1922. “The men of the United States found it was too expensive to have liquor.” To her credit, Hooper was bold about exposing the hypocrisy of her fellow elites who, themselves, never intended to forgo alcohol. She ridiculed them for their flouting of a law that was intended to benefit them financially without impeding upon their own fondness for drink.

As for Hooper, she swore that she never imbibed. “I am bone dry,” Hooper said. “I am dry and will be until the end of time.” More’s the pity. Hooper, who had a habit of working herself sick may have benefited from the pleasure of a hearty beer at day’s end. For all her good works, she deserved at least that.


  1. Actually, the womens' suffrage movement was strictly tied to the tempreance movement. Here's an interesting website that outlines the history of these two intertwined movements:
    Many historians would argue that Prohibition would have never been ratified in the Constitution if the Women's Suffrage movement was not successful.

    1. You got that right, Nick. By and large, the suffragettes supported Prohibition, which led to the brewers opposing a women’s right to vote. That was an awkward position for the brewers, many of whom had ties to the German Freethinkers movement. There was plenty of duplicity to go around, at this point. But the seed of all this nonsense was the Prohibition movement.