spacer spacer spacer
yalealumnimagazine.com   about the Yale Alumni Magazine   classified & display advertising   back issues 1992-present   our blogs   The Yale Classifieds   yam@yale.edu   support us


The Yale Alumni Magazine is owned and operated by Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., a nonprofit corporation independent of Yale University.

The content of the magazine and its website is the responsibility of the editors and does not necessarily reflect the views of Yale or its officers.


Comment on this article

A Toast to “Legal Inebriation”
In December 1933, Yale students enjoyed the taste of “real beer” for the first time since the repeal of Prohibition. But they hadn’t exactly been teetotalers up to then.

Alumni of every generation are likely to recall a Yale where alcohol was freely available despite campus rules or state and federal laws. But only a few graduates can say they celebrated the end of the nation’s greatest attempt at enforced temperance: Prohibition, which ended 65 years ago this month.

The front-page headline of the Yale Daily News on December 5, 1933, proclaimed: “Noble Experiment Ends as 36th State Legislature Casts Vote.” For 13 years, Yale and the rest of America had been ostensibly “dry,” but in reality, the News said, repeal marked only a change to “legal inebriation.”

Drinking had been an issue on campus since Yale’s founding, although hard cider had been served in Commons in Colonial days as part of the student diet. Campus polls taken prior to 1920 indicated that more than 50 percent of the undergraduates drank alcoholic beverages during the years 1896 to 1915, and 64 percent from 1916 to 1920.


The York Athletic Club served “sidecars” (ethyl gasoline & fruit juice).

Under Prohibition, most Yale undergraduates considered drinking to be no longer a matter of choice but an obligation. Hip flasks of bootlegged Scotch and gin carried in the pockets of raccoon coats and tuxedos became common, along with campus riots, sprees, and “bottle nights,” when empty vessels projected out of dorm windows splintered on the College walks. A major study of campus drinking conducted by the News in 1930 indicated that 71 percent of the students drank; that repeal was favored five-to-one, including by 60 percent of the nondrinkers; and that two-thirds of the drinkers said that they drank before entering college and that their parents drank at home. Clearly, the “noble experiment” was failing.

But while Prohibition had not dampened students' spirits, it meant that they had to find new places to drink. Yale’s most established watering hole, Mory’s, had been “converted by three young women into a ducky little place where one could eat chicken-salad sandwiches,” according to the Class of 1934 history, which also included a description of the York Athletic Club, a popular speakeasy. Its offerings were said to include the “York A.C. sidecar (ethyl gasoline and fruit juice), the York A.C. Scotch and soda (ethyl gasoline and water), and the York A.C. Gin Rickey (benzene and denatured alcohol).”

Throughout the fall of 1933, students followed the countdown of states needed for ratification of the 21st amendment with growing anticipation. On repeal night, “everyone who really was somebody presented himself at the Tasty-Toasty to blow the lid off.” The bartender slid glass after glass of foaming brew down the mahogany counter into eager hands. But after guzzling and “more guzzling,” the students soon became “frightfully bored” with convincing each other how good it was to have real beer again. Let down, they went back to their rooms “to brush up on tomorrow’s econ.”

While the end of Prohibition was good news for the operators of the “package stores” that sprung up to comply with the new laws, it was one of two events that marked the beginning of the end for Yale fraternities. (The other was the opening of the residential colleges that same fall.) Fraternities declined as students found themselves able to enjoy in their own colleges comfortable lodgings, conviviality, and good cheer.

But some serious issues had to be faced with the onset of legalized drinking. Editorials in this magazine warned of new dangers, since Prohibition had taught students and other drinkers to favor hard liquor over beer—and the rise of the automobile made drunk driving a problem. Advocating education for temperance, the Yale Alumni Magazine’s editor at the time believed that the best place to start was in the University. Meanwhile, though, the presence of alcohol had become institutionalized on campus, not to retreat into student rooms and fraternities again until the 1980s, when the drinking age was again raised to 21.  the end


©1992–2012, Yale Alumni Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Yale Alumni Magazine, P.O. Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905, USA. yam@yale.edu