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#57 From “Dry” to “Wet”: Norwich President Ira Reeves and Prohibition

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

57 photo - Reeves-002Ira Reeves was president of Norwich University from 1915-1917, resigning in order to serve in World War I. But it was his career in the 1920s and 1930s, first as a prohibition administrator and later as an anti-prohibition advocate, that make him a truly fascinating figure.

Reeves was born and educated in Missouri. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1893 and served until 1902 when he retired due to wounds received in action during the Philippine Insurrection. Reeves became president of Norwich in November 1915 and submitted his resignation in August 1917. He returned to active duty that same month and served in France until he was wounded on November 11th, 1918—Armistice Day.

After the war, Reeves settled in New Jersey and became a prominent businessman in Newark. In 1926, he was appointed Deputy Prohibition Administrator for the New Jersey districts, reportedly one of the “wettest” districts in the country, with massive industrial alcohol operations feeding the bootleg market. Reeves was a teetotaler who believed firmly in temperance, and he was picked for the job in large part due to his military background.

57 photo - Reeves-001During his time as a prohibition administrator, Reeves directed or personally led over 400 raids on stills, speakeasies, and safe houses. However, he quickly became disillusioned with prohibition. Though he worked day and night and believed passionately in the cause of temperance, he witnessed firsthand how prohibition was unenforceable and bred more crime and corruption than it curtailed.

After resigning his post, Reeves became a vocal advocate of repealing prohibition, joining the leadership of the Crusaders, an anti-prohibition organization based in Chicago. The ratification of the 21st Amendment in 1933 had the effect of ending the failed experiment that was prohibition.

Ira Reeves was appointed a prohibition administrator because it was felt that his military background, including his time as president of Norwich, would make him an aggressive enforcer of prohibition. But it took a Norwich spirit to stand up to the status quo and do what he believed to be right for his community.

You can visit the Norwich University Archives to read Ira Reeves’ extensive writings, newspaper clippings, and more on his career at Norwich and during prohibition.