Jump to Navigation

Sinners and Saints - Part 10

Vice and Reform in Kansas

Vice in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Peoples' perceptions about vice have changed over time. Most practices formerly viewed as vices have become health or safety concerns rather than moral issues. Some formerly illegal practices have become decriminalized.

Late 20th century lottery poster and tickets.

This shift in attitude began to occur in the early 20th century. World conflicts, especially World War I (1914-1918), exposed men to the more relaxed moral standards of European cities. Cars increased people's mobility, allowing them access to cities where they could escape the disapproving gaze of family and neighbors. Later, radio and television further influenced how people saw the world and changed their behavioral standards.

Kansans today still struggle with the issues surrounding vice. Many people accept moderate drinking, smoking, and gambling, but remain concerned about the abuse of these activities. Most reformers, though, prefer abstinence to moderation. They continue to fight the effects of vice on the economy, public health, and the family.


For Kansas temperance activists in the 21st century, the issues have not changed. Alcohol is still viewed as harmful and a drain on the state's resources--both human and financial.

United Dry Forces poster.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) remains active in several communities throughout the state, including Topeka. Another organization, Kansans For Life At Its Best, seeks to "unite users and non-users in the battle for freedom from human and economic misery caused by beverage alcohol." This poster (top, left) promotes the efforts of United Dry Forces, founded in 1937, which eventually became known as Kansans For Life at Its Best.

Despite the best efforts of temperance organizations in 1986, Kansas approved open saloons where mixed drinks could be purchased (liquor-by-the-drink). Breweries and brewpubs returned to Kansas. Taxes collected on gross receipts of alcohol in 2000 were $33 million.

Kansas still retains the strictest alcohol regulation in the country. Many retailers are unable to sell alcohol on Sunday. Only recently could alcohol be sold on election days or purchased by credit card.


In the late 20th century gambling became big business in Kansas. The state now has a lottery, four tribal casinos, and five racetracks.

A wave of tribal casinos was approved nationwide in the 1990s after Native Americans were able to convince the government of their status as separate nations. As owners of their reservations, they have made a successful case for using their land in ways they believe will most benefit their people.

Kansas lottery ticket.

Proponents argue that gambling increases the state's revenues. Opponents stress that gambling entices the poor to spend their limited income. Reformers also believe that the addictive effects of gambling cost the state in terms of medical treatment, lost wages, and a host of family problems.

A lottery for the state of Kansas was approved in 1986, with funding earmarked for economic development. As of August 31, 2000, total lottery sales were almost 2 billion. Among the agencies receiving lottery dollars are the Board of Regents, Eisenhower Museum, Wildlife and Parks, and the Kansas Historical Society.


Street prostitution has remained a challenge for Kansas law officials and communities in recent years. By conducting their business on the streets, prostitutes leave themselves open to abuse from pimps and customers. On the street, drugs are widely available, further complicating the problem.

Norva Hotel, Topeka, torn down through urban renewal efforts.

In a few large cities some have called for prostitution to be made legal. Proponents argue that if legalized it could be more closely regulated. This new generation of reformers would like solicitation laws rewritten, prostitution moved off the streets to brothels, and routine inspections of women for disease. They suggest that regulation would mean less work for law enforcement. At this time, Nevada is the only state with legal prostitution.

One method cities have used to get rid of prostitution is urban renewal--tearing down areas that have become dilapidated or where crime is rampant. The hope is that by the time these places are rebuilt, prostitution and other criminal activities will have moved out of the area.

In Topeka, the Norva Hotel (bottom, left) was demolished through urban renewal. Built in the 1860s, the Norva originally housed the Shawnee County courthouse, jail, and Sheriff's office before serving as a hotel. Prior to its demolition in 1977, the Norva catered more to monthly and weekly renters and transients--which lent itself well to prostitution and other illegal activities.


While smoking was once opposed on grounds of morality, today it is considered more of a health issue. After years of alerting the public to the harmful effects of smoking, reformers were finally vindicated. In 1964 the United States surgeon general released a statement naming cigarette smoking a major public health problem.

Protest statue, "Nicotena."

Today smoking bans and lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers fill the headlines.

In the 1970s and 1980s the group Kansans for Non-Smoker's Rights helped eliminate smoking in the workplace and public places. At the same time, a health movement swept the country, urging people to become fit and give up smoking. Kits to help smokers kick the habit were created to meet the demand.

An exhibit featuring the United States Bill of Rights toured the country, including Topeka, in 1991. Anti-tobacco reformers were angry that the exhibit was partially underwritten by Philip Morris, the maker of several brands of cigarettes. In protest, a group known as "Doctors Ought to Care" created a "Statue of Nicotena" (bottom, right) and had it placed at the site of the exhibit.

In 1998 Kansas received a settlement in a lawsuit against four tobacco companies. The lawsuit sought to stop tobacco companies from marketing their products to children and to recover medical expenses associated with smoking. Kansas plans to spend some of the $1.5 billion on smoking prevention programs.


Sinners & Saints is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. A Moral and Pure Society - Creating better communities was the goal.
  2. Alcohol - The politics behind alcohol reform.
  3. Agitate, Educate, Organize! - Women's role in prohibition laws.
  4. Gambling - Betting men took money away from their families.
  5. Gambling Timeline - Kansas issues.
  6. Prostitution - Seen as threatening the moral fabric of society.
  7. Prostitution Timeline - Kansas issues.
  8. Smoking - Cigarettes were believed to corrupt youth.
  9. Smoking Timeline - Kansas & U.S. issues.
  10. Vice in the 20th and 21st Centuries - They're still vices, but now the issue is health.
  11. Kansas Reformed? - The definition of "vice" has shifted over time.

Contact us at kshs.kansasmuseum@ks.gov