Library of Congress—Teaching with Primary Sources Program
Songs of Reform:
Using the National Jukebox, Prohibition Era Music, and Student Writing to Explore Culture and Change
A Lesson Plan for Grades 8-12
Written by
Irene S. LaRoche
Amherst Regional Middle School
Amherst, Massachusetts Public Schools
Robert W. Maloy
College of Education
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Sharon A. Edwards
College of Education
University of Massachusetts Amherst

1. Title
Songs of Reform: Using the National Jukebox, Prohibition Era Music, and Student Writing to Explore Culture and Change

2. Overview (Summary/Abstract)
This lesson plan uses primary source materials (including music from the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox) and student writing to explore the role of music and songs during the Prohibition era of United States history.
Music has always played a pivotal role in people’s experience, providing ways for individuals and groups to make sense of historical and contemporary events. We use music to think and understand our lives, expressing happiness, sadness, hopes, fears, political proposals and cultural norms through rhythms and lyrics. Jazz emerged as a quintessential American art form, giving voice to the struggles of African Americans against the legacy of slavery and the realities of oppression and discrimination. Patriotic music accompanies national celebrations, political activities, and sporting events. Songs of protest have mobilized and energized movements for social and political reform.
In the early 20th century, music was a vehicle of expression for the proponents and opponents of anti-liquor laws and the 18th Amendment establishing Prohibition. In this lesson, students will be able to listen to songs of protest recorded in the National Jukebox from the Library of Congress. They will analyze the lyrics and melodies to deepen their study of the historical, social, economic and cultural dimensions of the Prohibition Era. Then, students will incorporate musical genres and songs of today—including those from popular and youth culture—to compose their own songs about key elements in the history of Prohibition, including the Volstead Act, the 18th and 21st Amendments, the Anti-Saloon League and Temperance Movement as well as important individuals and events. The composing of student-written songs will follow a process writing model, incorporate elements of the Common Core ELA speaking and listening standards, and will serve as formative and summative assessments of student learning.

3. Learning Objectives
  • Students will analyze primary source music and lyrics using Library of Congress analysis tools.
  • Students will identify groups supporting and opposing Prohibition as well as key legislation and amendments that were enacted during the era.
  • Students will understand the role of music and songs in expressing and influencing people’s views of Prohibition.
  • Students will write their own versions of songs of protest.

4. State Framework Topic and Common Core Standards Skill Addressed
a. Massachusetts History & Social Science Curriculum Framework
  • United States History II.10: Describe how the battle between traditionalism and modernity manifested itself in the major historical trends and events after World War I and throughout the 1920s.

b. Common Core English Language Arts: History/Social Studies
  • __CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9__ Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
  • Common Core Speaking and Listening Comprehension and Collaboration 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • Common Core Speaking and Listening Comprehension and Collaboration 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
  • Common Core Speaking and Listening Comprehension and Collaboration 6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

5. Time Required
The lesson can be done in two and half hours. The lesson may be modified to reduce or extend time based on the needs of teachers and students.

6. Recommended Grade Range
The lesson is appropriate for middle or high school classrooms between grades 8 and 12.

7. Subject & Topic
United States History & Prohibition


8. Materials

The following is the text of a reading that students will complete for homework before the lesson begins.

Historical Overview of Prohibition in American History
The time period called Prohibition, noted author Daniel Okrent in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner, 2011, p. 3), is framed by a profound historical puzzle:
“How did a freedom-loving people decide to give up a private right that had been freely exercised by millions upon millions since the first Europeans arrived in the New World?”

Other commentators have also explored Prohibition as a time of cultural and political change. The Massachusetts History & Social Studies Curriculum Framework includes Prohibition under the United States History standard: “Describe how the battle between traditionalism and modernity manifested itself in the major historical trends and events after World War I and throughout the 1920s.” The Advanced Placement (AP) United States History Course Outline includes “temperance” as one of the social movements students should study under the theme of “Reform.” The 1920s is also one of the core topics for an AP United States history course.
As Nina Gifford noted at the beginning of her lesson plan, In the Aftermath of War: Cultural Clashes in the 1920s, the United States emerged from World War I with “deep seismic faults in its society,” giving rise to “clashes” between urban and traditional society that would reverberate through the decade and beyond. Studying events in the 1920s, including Prohibition, can “help students graspthe era’s great complexity and give them insights into different cultural attitudesthat still exist in our society” (p. 3).

The Temperance Movement. The Temperance movement was strongly interrelated with the Women's movement in the United States.

The Volstead Act. This was the enabling legislation for the 18th Amendment.
  1. 1. The act specified that "no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, furnish or possess any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act."
  2. 2. Intoxicating liquor was defined as any beverage over 0.5% alcohol.
  3. 3. Importantly, the act did not specifically prohibit the purchase or consumption of intoxicating liquors.
  4. 4. Those who had stockpiled alcoholic beverages could legally consume them (for more, see “The Volstead Act” from the website Alcohol Problems and Solutions maintained by David J. Hanson, Department of Sociology, State University of New York Potsdam, online at

The day before the 18th Amendment went into effect, the New York Daily News sought to interpret the law for its readers as follows (quoted in Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America. Edward Behr. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1996, pp. 78-79).
You may drink intoxicating liquor in your own home or in the home of a friend when you are a bona fide guest.
You may buy intoxicating liquor on a bona fide medical prescription of a doctor. A pint can be bought every ten days.
You may consider any place you live permanently as your home. If you have more than one home, you may keep a stock of liquor in each.
You may keep liquor in any storage room or club locker, provided the storage place is for the exclusive use of yourself, family or bona fide guests.
You may get a permit to move liquor when you change your residence.
You may manufacture, sell or transport liquor for non-beverage or sacramental purposes provided you obtain a Government permit.
You cannot carry a hip flask.
You cannot give away or receive a bottle of liquor as a gift.
You cannot take liquor to hotels or restaurants and drink it in the public dining room.
You cannot buy or sell formulas or recipes for homemade liquors.
You cannot ship liquor for beverage use.
You cannot store liquor in any place except your own home.
You cannot manufacture anything above one half of one percent (liquor strength) in your home.
You cannot display liquor signs or advertisements on your premises.
You cannot remove reserve stocks from storage.

The Prohibition Era. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent (Scribner, 2010) offers a well-written overview of the Prohibition era. A small minority of anti-liquor proponents created radical change in American society, change that came with many unforeseen consequences, including the rise of organized crime, higher taxes to regain lost revenue, and enormous profits and wealth for a small number of speculators and business interests. Key points from Okrent’s book include:
  • Alcohol was the nation's fifth largest industry at the time.
  • Advocates of prohibition were known as “drys.” They appealed to white Protestant morals, arguing that alcohol consumption led to sinful behavior (such as promiscuity).
  • The Anti-Saloon League was a major force in American politics from 1893 to 1933. Through both printed word and lobbying, the League turned its moral crusade against alcohol into a fight for a Constitutional amendment.
  • A unique combination of organizations and individuals supported prohibition: "Simply put, racism, progressivism, populism, suffragism, and nativism spiked with a pungent dose of anti-popery" ("When America went on the wagon," Katherine A Powers, Boston Sunday Globe, K7).
  • American entry into World War I was decisive factor because it created a wave of anti-German hysteria, some of which was directed toward brewing companies owned by individuals of German origin.
  • The 16th Amendment establishing the graduated income tax gave the federal government a means to make up for the lost of revenue that Prohibition would create by eliminating the tariff on alcohol.
  • Though it slowed a bit, consumption of alcohol in the United States did not stop. On the contrary, Prohibition served to create an underground culture of illegal liquor production and consumption.
  • The ban also corresponded with a rise in organized crime , as mobsters took great advantage of the growing underground network. The city of Detroit had more than 20,000 speakeasies, one for about every 30 adults, and illegal alcohol was the city's second-largest industry, next to auto manufacturing.

As historian David Oshinsky noted in "Temperance to Excess" (The New York Times Book Review, May 23, 2010, p. 20), the
"accompanying laws. meanwhile, provided enough loopholes to guarantee failure. Sacramental wine was permitted, allowing fake clergymen to lead bogus congregants in non-religious romps. Farmers who fermented their own cider and "fruit juices" were given special exemptions. . . . Doctors, dentists, and even veterinarians were free to write prescriptions for remedies like "Richardson's Concentrated Sherry Wine Bitters," which contained 47.5 percent alcohol (95 proof). In the 20s, Charles Walgreen expanded his drugstore chain from 20 stores to an astounding 525—a spurt ludicrously attributed to his introduction of the milkshake."

The 21st Amendment ended Prohibition; it was ratified in 1933.

“A Prohibition Rap”
by bob maloy

Prohibition, Prohibition
No alcohol became the nation’s mission
Keeping people from their own volition
Working to legislate inhibitions.

Powerful force Carry Nation
Upset about intoxication
Too many on a booze vacation
Public not really concentrating.

Started off with the Volstead Act
0.5 became a fact
Anti-Saloon League led the attack
18th Amendment gave life a different tact.

Alcohol was now underground
Organized crime gained renown
Speakeasies easily found
Bootleggers all around.

Politics was Dry vs. Wets
Enforcing the law rarely met
Mafia got all it could get
Making home-brew was a good bet.

Democrats sought repeal
Republicans left afield
Liquor tax government’s next meal
Roosevelt’s pen made a new deal.

Prohibition, Prohibition
Banning alcohol failed as a mission
Can’t keep people from their own volition
No need to legislate inhibitions.

9. Resources Used

National Jukebox from the Library of Congress at

Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis Tool at http://www/

Analyzing Sound Recordings from the Library of Congress, online at

America’s Story from America’s Library, online at

resourcesforhistoryteachers wiki, online at

In the Aftermath of War: Cultural Clashes in the 1920s. Nina Gifford. National Center for History in the Schools, University of California Los Angeles, online at

Carry Nation biography, online at

Playlist of Recordings lists all the recording playlists assembled on the National Jukebox

Jazz, A Film by Ken Burns, website online at

Alcohol Problems and Solutions, a website maintained by David J. Hanson, Department of Sociology, State University of New York Potsdam, online at

Digital History website from the University of Houston, online at

When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking about Electric Communication in the Nineteenth Century. Carolyn Marvin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Daniel Okrent. New York: Scribner, 2011.

Prohibition: Thirteen Years That Changed America. Edward Behr. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1996.

“Temperance to Excess.” David Oshinsky, The New York Times Book Review, May 23, 2010.

Robert Maloy & Sharon Edwards. (Fall 2012/Spring 2013). Tag Bundles, Education Boards, and Internet Playlists: Constructing Historical Biographies Using Social Bookmarking Technologies. New England Journal of History (69) 1-2: 81-95.


10. Description of Procedure

10.1 Lesson Opener

  1. a. Ask students the following questions, either as a class discussion, a think/pair/share discussion or a short survey. Students can respond orally, in writing or by sending a tweet.
  • o How many of you listened to music on the way to school today?
  • o What music did you listen to? Is it the same as what your parents listen to?
  • o How do you access music (radio, iPod, Internet, CD-players)?
  • o What genres do you enjoy listening to when you listen to music?
  • o What were the most popular musical genres and artists from 90 to 100 years ago (1913-1923)? Key genres included big band, country, jazz and the blues. Key artists included: Louis Armstrong, Al Jolson, Bessie Smith, Jimmie Rogers, Fats Waller, George Gershwin, and the Carter Family.
  • o Have any of you ever heard big band, country, jazz or the blues?

Historical Background for Teachers: The emergence of new communications technologies—radio, phonographs, and 78 rpm records—transformed the role and place of music in American society both technologically and sociologically, creating new contexts for musical performers and audiences.
A key source on how new technologies transform social relations is Carolyn Marvin’s book When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking about Electric Communication in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 1990). Marvin discusses how electric lights and the telephone changed society, disrupting the customary divide that has existed between the private life of person and family and public sphere of the community.
The impact of mass communication technologies in the 1920s began a long-term shifting of music listening and performing from a family-centered experience built around regional styles and forms (country music, blues, barbershop, big band) toward a more meshed national experience while giving rise to powerful corporate entertainment structures. Middle and high school students today listen to music individually or with members of the peer groups, but not with adults as part of a broad family-listening experience. Music television channels (MTV, VH1) along with the Internet have promoted specific genres—rap, R&B, hip-hop, rock, country, pop, Latin, and digital—as well as artists such as Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Robin Thicke, Madonna, and Daft Punk as a way to appeal to youth-centered music listening and buying demographics.
Music also serves as an important vehicle for the expression of political ideas and proposals. During the Prohibition era, different groups used music to express views about anti-liquor laws and social reform. This lesson examines those musical creations and asks students to analyze both lyrics and melodies (many found on the National Jukebox from the Library of Congress) before composing their own songs of reform as a creative writing response to historical study.

10.2 Discussion of the Historical Overview Reading with Students

  1. a. Teachers discuss with students an historical overview of the Prohibition era in American history (see Materials for the text of the overview).
  2. b. Students will have completed this reading for homework before the lesson begins. (If not assigned for homework, allow 20 minutes for students to read the overview in class.) Discussion questions:
  • What topics do you think people in the 1920s might be singing about in their music?
  • Why do you think the Prohibition Era is considered a time of cultural clash and conflict?

10.3 Introducing the National Jukebox as a Primary Source

  1. a. Teachers introducethe National Jukebox from the Library of Congress.
  2. b. Visit the opening webpage and read the overview of the National Jukebox to students. The National Jukebox is available free online at
c. Teachers play a selection of music from the following playlists to illustrate to students how the music reflects ideas and values in the culture of the times:
  • Playlist of Recordings lists all the recording playlists assembled on the National Jukebox
  • Playlist: Early Tin Pan Alley presents pioneering songs from the famous New York City music-publishing district.
  • Playlist: Black Broadway and Tin Pan Alley focuses on the work of African American composers and performers.
  • Playlist: Temperance and Prohibition offers songs about life with liquor and beer.

Historical Background for Teachers. Music and songs offer a student-engaging lens into the political and cultural conflicts of the 1920s. During the first decades of the 20th century, the emergence of new communications technologies propelled music as a force for change and reform. Key points for teachers to emphasize for students include:
  • Radio, phonographs, and 78 rpm records meant that music was being made more available to wider audiences.
  • Tin Pan Alley (the area of music publishers and songwriters concentrated on a small section of New York City) had a powerful impact on music of the time. African American and Jewish songwriters and performers gave expression to the music of the poor and immigrants through new and innovative forms of music—ragtime and jazz. They were the musical innovators of the time, just as rap musicians are innovators of today’s music.

10.4 Analyzing Prohibition Era Song Lyrics and Melodies

a) Read an overview of temperance music at Songs of the Temperance Movement and Prohibition from the Library of Congress.
b) Pass out copies of the Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis tool
Pass out copies of the Library of Congress Teacher’s Guide Analyzing Sound Recordings
c) Tell students to select a question from each of the Observe, Reflect, and Question categories on the Teacher’s Guide and then respond to it on the Library of Congress primary source analysis tool as they listen to each of the sound recordings.
d) Play the recordings. After each selection, ask students to share their responses.
Musical Selections Favoring Prohibition and Temperance:
Musical Selection Protesting Prohibition:

Historical Background for Teachers. For additional musical materials, see Playlist: Temperance and Prohibition from the Library of Congress. Teachers can also consult Temperance to Prohibition which features primary source documents and sheet music assembled by the University of Alabama Libraries.
Teachers can ask students to analyze the sheet music cover page art; for example the song "I Never Knew I Had Such a Wonderful Wife (Till the Town Went Dry)." For the corresponding Library of Congress analysis tool see:
For more information on music protesting Prohibition, see The Melodic Protest: America's Songs of the Prohibition from Researching New Jersey's History.

10.5 Student Song Writing

a. Listen to, read, or perform “A Prohibition Rap” by Bob Maloy.
b. Discuss with students how “A Prohibition Rap” integrates into the lyrics the following key historical terms and concepts: Volstead Act, Anti-Saloon League, 18th Amendment, Mafia, speakeasies, bootleggers, Carry Nation, Drys v. Wets, liquor tax, and New Deal.
c. Tell students how songs used to be written and rewritten with new lyrics to old tunes.
d. Pass out copies of the song lyrics for “Woman’s Cause Shall Win” from the Illinois During the Gilded Age website at written to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
e. Perform a class sing-along of the “Woman’s Cause Shall Win.”
f. As individuals or in small groups, students write their own songs about the Prohibition era incorporating historically accurate concepts and terms and using musical genres and styles they are familiar with from their own lives. Students may use familiar tunes where they change the lyrics or compose original music. If time is short, students can compose one stanza and/or one chorus from a longer song.
g. Once song lyrics have been written, students can perform them orally in class. As each song is performed, the class identifies historical terms and concepts in the music.

11. Extension Ideas
Students can analyze primary source songs about other historical topics from the 1920s such as the Harlem Renaissance. Students can write songs about other historical topics. Teachers can incorporate the study of music throughout American history as a way to discuss the important issues of different eras; for example, music during the Civil War. Teachers and students can post student-written songs on a class website or blog or perform them at a school assembly.


12. Assessment
Students will be assessed on their original Prohibition song lyrics. Teachers should give credit for the incorporation of historically accurate terms and concepts. Other grading criteria could include creativity, use of musical genres from today, and stage presence during performance.