How Women Saved Whiskey: An Instant Conversation : The Protojournalist Behind every great shot of whiskey there's a woman who helped keep it flowing.

How Women Saved Whiskey: An Instant Conversation

A woman places labels on Old Crow bourbon bottles sometime in the early 1900s. Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History hide caption

toggle caption
Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History

Starter: Hello. Is that whiskey you're drinking?

Let me tell you about the debt that whiskey drinkers owe to women. Fred Minnick, a writer for the beverage industry, says so in his new book, Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey.

Explainer: Women have played vital roles in the history of whiskey in America, Fred says. In the 19th century, "sex-selling saloon women created the greatest demand for American whiskey, peddling more than $2 million in booze in New York in 1857, while teetotaler temperance ladies fought to keep their cheating husbands from entering the brothels and saloons. The men blamed the whiskey; the wives fought for Prohibition."

Impressive Depth: You know all about Carrie Nation and the Women's Christian Temperance Movement, which led the charge for passage of the 18th Amendment and the National Prohibition Act of 1920.

But some women also led the battle cry to repeal Prohibition. Several historians have written about this, including Kenneth D. Rose in American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition and Daniel Okrent in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

And now Fred. He says that Pauline Morton Sabin and her Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform converted a bunch of erstwhile WCTU members into so-called "Repeal Women," who proclaimed that Prohibition favored the bootleggers and was disrespectful of the Constitution. Fred says, "Many politicians, most notably New York governor Herbert Lehman, credited Sabin for changing America's mind about Prohibition."

Quotes You Can Quote: Over the years, women have made their marks on Maker's Mark and other notable brands. Fred says that "without Marjorie 'Marge' Samuels inventing the red wax and the curvy bottle for Maker's Mark, bourbon packaging would still predominantly feature animals and old men. Samuels' design transformed the entire liquor industry."

Closer: This all reminds me of a memorable Walker Percy essay on bourbon in which the Southern semiotician writes about standing around with a couple of guys and knocking back two or three shots and the moment at which all three men said at once: "Where are the women?"

Maybe Fred's book answers the question: At least some of the women were busy saving bourbon from oblivion.

Ok, sure, I'll have a Shirley Temple.

What is The Protojournalist? New-school storytelling, old-school reporting. @NPRtpj