© 2024 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Anti-Saloon Students

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

By the time Billy Sunday brought his crusade to Rock Island in 1919, to wage eight weeks of war against the liquor trade, he was a late comer. Students at Augustana College had already been manning the front lines for 10 years, with debates, speeches, letters to newspapers and whatever other weapons lay at hand. It was a lonely undertaking for the Swedish Americans. Other immigrant groups in Rock Island, the Belgians, Germans, Irish, Italians and Greeks, brought with them a long tradition of drinking.

Augustana students threw their all into the effort, taking time out from their studies to engage in thorough research. In 1913, that research uncovered 93 bars and saloons within Rock Island City limits, for a population of 25,000. One group of students decided to track the exact location of the saloons by walking from the Augustana campus to downtown Rock Island.

It was just as they expected. There was at least one saloon, and more often two, at the entrance to every single factory. All four railroad stations were flanked by saloons, giving tourists a bad first impression of Rock Island. The students passed the Rock Island Brewing Company, the cause of it all, and passed five saloons packed into three blocks between 27th and 24th Streets. There was even a saloon, appropriately named the Transfer Saloon, at the point where passengers changed streetcars.

Did factory workers really stop in these dens of iniquity before going home to kiss their children, the students wanted to know. Indeed, they did. Careful research showed that 30% of the workers headed for the saloons after work, with 10% of them leaving work ten minutes early to beat the crowd.

The Augustana students concluded that none of this would change without the passage of Prohibition.

I'm sure you will join me in wishing that today's students were as eager and conscientious in their research as students in the good old days. I only hope those students in 1913 did not take too much time from their classwork. I would hate to think that they could name the bars and saloons and Rock Island more accurately than they could distinguish the major from the minor prophets.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.