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Bull Hist Med. 2008 Summer;82(2):355-86. doi: 10.1353/bhm.0.0005.

"Physicians are not bootleggers": the short, peculiar life of the Medicinal Alcohol Movement.

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Community Health, Brown University, USA.


This essay seeks to chronicle the effort of physicians to secure the right to prescribe beer, liquor, and other alcoholic beverages to their patients for medicinal uses during the Prohibition era. A review of the medical literature and popular press from the period 1920-26 reveals that the physicians who lobbied for the right to prescribe alcohol and, ultimately, took their claim to the United States Supreme Court, were not uniformly antiprohibitionists attempting to circumvent the Eighteenth Amendment. Instead, this coalition of physician activists, led by John P. Davin and Samuel W. Lambert, included both supporters and opponents of prohibition. Their attitudes on the therapeutic value of beer and liquor also varied widely. Yet what united these men and women-and what defined their movement-was opposition to state interference with the practice of medicine and an increasing concern with the federal government's role in the regulation of their profession. The defeat of their efforts, presaging the passage of the Sheppard Towner Act in 1921 and the extension of veterans' health benefits in 1924, marked an important step in the development of antagonism between the medical community and the federal government during the mid-twentieth century.

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