Prohibition Agent Hannah Brigham

When the 18th Amendment first passed, it worked to curb the consumption of liquor, but as time waned on, more and more people began finding ways around its ban. The “dry era” increased the need for people to find creative ways to get and make liquor. 

Daring individuals began making trips to carry alcohol back to the speakeasies for a profit. To avoid being stopped and arrested by cops, women began going on these trips and becoming bootleggers themselves as decorum of the day dictated that they could not be searched by male law enforcement officers.

To counter this growing trend, the Internal Revenue Service enlisted women all over to become dry agents. One of those women, Hannah Brigham was one of these pioneering women to come onboard. 

Hannah Brigham, a Boston native, was the secretary and acting chairman of the Cambridge Republican League of Women Voters upon, her appointment was done by Prohibition Director Elmer C. Potter. She previously held positions with other organizations in the city ranging from executive secretary for The Salvation Army, to working with the Women’s Republican City Committee as an appointed member of the Ward 8 committee whose purpose was elect the most suitable man as councilor for the city of Cambridge.

Director Elmer Potter appointed her for her investigative work and also because he recognized the importance women played in bringing about prohibition and maintaining the law saying “I believe the presence of a woman on the enforcement staff will have a most salutary effect in bringing about strict observance of the law and contributing to more faithful work in enforcement.”

Most of Hannah’s work centered on inspecting official prohibition permits and the accounts of various physicians to ensure they weren’t profiting from selling medicinal liquor but she also went on raids with her male counterparts. 

Prohibition Agent Hannah BrighamWhile still a novice dry agent, she went on her first raid a hotel where she helped to check seized liquors. She also participated in a raid at a grocery store where $25,000 worth of liquor was found. Hannah began to earn a reputation as a good and hard worker, with a no-nonsense attitude.  She soon gained the trust and respect of her male counterparts which led to an accomplishment that no other woman agent at the time had achieved and that was to lead a raid.

The target location had been developed once Katherine Durfee, a former student of the Bradford Academy also known as flapper school, told her head of her host family, Prohibition Enforcement Director James P. Roberts, about “silk stocking flask parties” at the school. A prohibition agent swore-in Katherine as a dry agent and gave her a flask to collect evidence. Posing as a drunk student, she purchased an ounce of liquor from the choir director and turned it over to Roberts. The unit under Hannah’s command, sprang into action and the choir director was arrested, though she later denied any involvement. After the arrest, the event was covered by several papers as a scandal had occurred at a prominent school.

Hannah felt the cause and responsibility she had embraced was a noble one, and one that was true service to her community and country.  She spent time speaking at religious events to encourage women and families to help uphold the prohibition law and discussed the difficulties federal agents faced while enforcing the law no matter the unpopularity or non-adherence.

After leaving the unit, Hannah continued her work with the Women’s Republican Club. The group discussed issues such as women’s right to serve as jurors. She also remained a strong supporter of the soldier’s bonus bill which paved the way for the future creation and implementation of the GI Bill.





Last Reviewed May 26, 2020