On October 8, 1907, Thomas Walton Patton wrote in his diary, “Election over—bad conduct on part of prohib [prohibition] ladies—very distressing.”
Thomas Walton Patton, the third generation of Asheville’s Patton family, was born in Asheville in 1841 and served in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865. The city elected him mayor in 1893 and 1894.
Like his grandfather James Patton and his father James Washington Patton, T. W. Patton took his civic responsibilities seriously and promoted modern conveniences which benefitted the Asheville community, including trolley cars, electric lights, and water and sewer systems. He sponsored municipal institutions—the public library, the home for orphans, the home for destitute young women, the YWCA and the YMCA.
During his life Patton wrote hundreds of letters and kept diaries of his travels. His family has shared with us a diary that he kept in 1907, the last year of his life. Even though he was very ill, he still closely watched the people and events in Asheville and western North Carolina and jotted down his observations.
One of the big events of 1907 was a local election held Oct. 8, 1907, in which Asheville voted in favor of prohibition: 1274 votes in favor, 426 votes against. North Carolina was the first state to end the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, voting statewide May 26, 1908. This was eleven years before the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified Jan. 16, 1919) brought prohibition to the entire country. Support for prohibition was especially strong in the western part of North Carolina.
Thomas Patton’s diary entries during the time of the Prohibition election are as follows:
October 1, 1907—“Prohibition letter published in Gazette-News.”
October 5, 1907—“Great Prohib [prohibition] parade—antis hold meeting at night—Prohibs sure to win I fear.”
October 7, 1907—“Much excitement about tomorrows election—but I hope it will go off quietly.”
October 8—“Election over—bad conduct on part of prohib ladies—very distressing—majority for prohib reported 800-848.”
Like many other thoughtful Asheville citizens, Patton believed that it was unwise to attempt to legislate morality and feared the economic and social effects of a legal ban on alcohol. But sentiment had been so whipped up against the evils of liquor, especially among local women, that prohibition forces won the election by a large majority. Patton’s comment about the “bad conduct on part of prohib ladies” is supported by newspaper accounts. Women and children were at their posts in large numbers when the polls opened, wearing white ribbons, blocking the way to the polling places. Men wearing red ribbons, showing their support for legal alcohol, were surrounded and so harassed that many gave up and changed their vote. “From the very start the prohibitionists took the lead and their opponents were utterly demoralized.”
REMINDER TO THE FRIENDS OF THE NORTH CAROLINA ROOM: Patton’s fascinating first-person account of events in turn of the century Asheville will be one of the items on view on Tuesday, July 17, 5:30-7:00, at the Patton-Parker home at 95 Charlotte Street. Patton’s granddaughter Mary Parker (1914-2012), a devoted library Friend, would have been 100 years old on this date. We will celebrate her life and her family with an appreciation event for the members of the Friends of the NC Collection. R.S.V.P. required.
Thanks to Phyllis Lang, board member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room, for her research and text on the Parker-Patton family. Phyllis was co-producer of the video, Thomas Walton Patton: Asheville’s Citizen and Soldier, 1999.