Ohio History Journal

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"Driest of Drys": Simeon D. Fess




The struggle was long and hard fought, but the final victory was short-lived for

the national prohibition movement in the United States. Temporary success came

with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, but the drys had to admit

defeat with adoption of the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933. One contemporary

historian has noted that the "most importunate of all the crusades of this generation

was that against Demon Rum."1

Many persons and organizations had been caught up in the persistent temper-

ance crusade which had its roots in the colonical period and included the Woman's

Christian Temperance Union and Frances Willard, temperance orators such as

Neal Dow and John Gough, the Anti-Saloon League, the Temperance Society of

the Methodist Episcopal Church--the most active of the religious denominations in

denouncing alcohol--and Carry Amelia Nation of Kansas whose hatchet symbolized

her personal vendetta against the saloon. Among the Ohioans who played a part

in this vexing economic, social, and political drama was Simeon D. Fess, educator,

politician, and statesman.

Fess was born in 1861 on a farm near West Newton, Allen County, Ohio, to

Henry and Barbara Herring Fess. The father, born in 1808, probably in Berne,

Switzerland, had emigrated during the early thirties with other members of his

family to the United States where the family settled in Westmoreland County,

Pennsylvania. During his early manhood, Henry moved to Cincinnati, where in

1847 he met and married Barbara Herring. The family remained in Cincinnati

until around 1859 when they moved northward to Allen County, probably because

Barbara had relatives there.2

Simeon's father died in 1866 leaving his widow and seven children destitute.

The family depended upon the older children for economic support, but Simeon,

being the sixth born and only four years old at the time of his father's death,

remained at home. When he was ten, he went to live with his older and only sister,

Elizabeth, who had recently married a farmer by the name of George Brown. At

sixteen, he began working for the local farmers from whom he received his lodging;




1. Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of the American Republic (New

York, 1962), II, 463.

2. The only biographies of Fess are John Lewis Nethers, "Simeon D. Fess: Educator and Politician"

(unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1964) and Lehr Fess, "The Most Unforget-

table Character I have ever Known," Northwest Ohio Quarterly, XXXIII (1961), 154-159.

Mr. Nethers is professor of history, Ashland College.