William E. (Pussyfoot) Johnson

William E. Johnson, better known as "Pussyfoot Johnson," was a leader of the Anti-Saloon League. He acquired his nickname for his stealth in enforcing prohibition laws for the Indian Service in Oklahoma.

After starting and publishing his own temperance newspaper, he joined the Anti-Saloon League and rose to become managing editor of the league's publishing house, the American Issue Publishing Company. He was managing editor of the Standard Encyclopedia of the Liquor Problem, on which he worked closely with Wayne Wheeler.

The Anti-Saloon League was also committed to bringing prohibition to the entire world and sent Johnson to England to promote the cause. There lost an eye from a rock thrown by angry students in London. He called the loss a good investment for the cause of prohibition. This raised his profile and made him a martyr for the cause of prohibition. While campaigning for tightening of Ontario's prohibition laws, a large crowd in Windsor was so hostile that Johnson had to be surrounded by police and escorted out of town. Johnson also traveled to many other countries around the world promoting temperance on behalf of the World League Against Alcoholism.

Johnson developed some of the tactics used in the Anti-Saloon League. For example, he wrote to wet leaders, claiming to be a brewer and asked them for advice on how to defeat temperance activists. He then published the incriminating letters he received.

Johnson seemed proud of his dishonesty. "Did I ever lie to promote prohibition? Decidedly yes. I have told enough lies for the cause to make Ananias ashamed of himself" he wrote in an article titled "I had to lie, bribe and drink to put over prohibition in America." (Note: Ananias was a notorious liar in the New Testament.)

Pussyfoot

One meaning of "pussyfoot" is someone who supports alcohol prohibition; a teetotaler. This usage derives from William E. "Pussyfoot" Johnson who traveled around the world promoting prohibition.

Source: ivan070.tripod.com/id30.html

Johnson's self-publicized activities and tactics made him popular among prohibitionists. By the time of his death, Pussyfoot Johnson was a household name recognized across the United States.

Although Prohibition was a dismal failure that created serious problems, many people and organizations today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that continue to exist.

 

Resources:

  • Aaron, Paul, and Musto, David. Temperance and Prohibition in America: An Historical Overview. In: Moore, Mark H., and Gerstein, Dean R. (Eds.) Alcohol and Public Policy: Beyond the Shadow of Prohibition. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1981. Pp. 127-180.
  • Blocker, Jack S. American Temperance Movements: Cycles of Reform. Boston: Twayne, 1989.
  • Burdick, Kim Rogers. Pussyfoot Johnson. Smithville Flats, NY: Smithville Flats Historical Society, 1978.
  • Collision imperils 566.; Liner beached after crash in channel -- Pussyfoot Johnson aboard. New York Times, July 22, 1922, p. 4. (He was unhurt but collision left glass shards on his bed, Pussyfoot Johnson reported.)
  • Denounces British "rag"; Bishop Weldon takes treatment of Pussyfoot" Johnson as text. New York Times, December 15, 1919, p 21. (Bishop who opposed prohibition denounced mistreatment of Pussyfoot Johnson.)
  • Downes, Myron. William E. ("Pussyfoot") Johnson Scrapbook. Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX.
  • Holds Europe unable to stop bootlegging; "Pussyfoot" Johnson reports he discovered more smuggling than in United States. New York Times, August 10, 1926. ("There is more bootlegging and more moonshining in Europe than in the whole United States," reported Pussyfoot Johnson.)
  • How London has viewed Mr. "Pussyfoot" Johnson. New York Times Magazine, November 23, 1919, p. SM4.
  • Johnson, William "Pussyfoot." I had to lie, bribe and drink to put over Prohibition in America. Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan, May, 1926.
  • McKenzie, Frederick A. "Pussyfoot" Johnson: Crusader, Reformer, a Man among Men. NY: Fleming & Revell Co., 1920.
  • Nebraska State historical Society. Johnson, William E. ("Pussyfoot") Johnson scrapbook (1905-1916)
  • New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Pussyfoot Johnson cartoon. Pussyfoot Johnson visits New Zealand. http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/pussyfoot-johnson-cartoon
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. NY: Columbia University Press, 1928.
  • Predicts a dry England.; "Pussyfoot" Johnson, returning there, says he will see it dry. New York Times, April 26, 1921, p. 19. (Pussyfoot Johnson said "England will be dry in my lifetime. I have made up my mind that I am not going to die until England is dry.")
  • Reck, Alfred P. World-wide prohibition forecast by "Pussyfoot" Johnson who sees dry sentiment gaining abroad. Evening Independent, December 12, 1927. (Some countries did not welcome visits by Pussyfoot Johnson.)
  • Rice, Diana. Valorious Pussyfoot; record of Johnson, wets' arch enemy, as United States marshal in taming bootleggers of the wild west. New York Times, August 13, 1922, p. 86. (Reported Pussyfoot Johnson's success in apprehending bootleggers and the origin of his nickname."
  • Sinha, Tarini Prasad. "Pussyfoot" Johnson and His Campaign in Hindustan. Madras, India: Ganesh, 1922.
  • Soderstrum, T. Jason. Johnson, William Eugene "Pussyfoot." In: Blocker, Jack S., et al. (eds.) Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International encyclopedia. ABC-CLO, 2003, p. 340.
  • W.E Johnson dies; dry crusader, 82. New York Times, February 3, 1945, p. 11.
  • Westerville (Ohio) Public Library. Leaders: William E. Johnson. Westerville Public Library website.

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