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As It Was: Women declared war on an Ashland saloon

Ann Hill Russell — the youngest of Ashland’s pioneering Hill sisters — set out in 1881 with other temperance movement members to close down Ashland’s saloons. In one of the most colorful episodes of the drive to remove the “Devil’s brews,” these advocates incited what was later called the “Saloon War of 1881.”

When the women visited the saloon of Frank Horsley — located on Granite Street — and demanded that he stop serving alcohol, the cagey proprietor offered the ladies a free drink. They politely accepted the shots of whiskey, marched outside and poured the liquor into a gutter. The war was on.

The women then sat close together in rocking chairs in front of the saloon and started knitting — day after day.

Eventually, the proprietor sold his building to the women for $300. They transferred the title with the understanding that the new owner would not serve liquor. The same approach had worked a year before when a saloon operator was forced to close his doors.

However, the war was not over yet.

When the railroad came to Ashland in 1884, businesses happily served liquor to young single railroad workers. The women founded a local chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the battles continued until Prohibition was finally enacted.

Source: Richardson, Paul A., “From Trails to Rails, Jackson County, 1880-1900,” p.49-50, in Land in Common, Southern Oregon Historical Society, 1993. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

Photo of drinking party in woods outside of Ashland, Oregon; likely staged. (Photo courtesy of Southern Oregon Historical Society, image No. 03121)