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I may as well take one glass: The Devil in the Bottle

poster of temperance warrior riding a horse and cutting through beer, whiskey, gin, and rum barrels

The Devil in the Bottle

TEMPERANCE organizations gradually emerged as a significant political force in nineteenth-century America. Early groups like the American Temperance Society, founded in 1825, tolerated moderate use of alcohol; other, more radical groups like the Total Abstinence Society, founded in 1815, aimed at comprehensive prohibitions on the making, sale, and use of any and all alcohol. The various temperance organizations arose in response to a perceived, if not real, increase in public drunkenness and domestic violence as well as the “immoral” sale of strong spirits on the Sabbath—all of which were attributed to the popularity of cheap and plentiful whiskey in the decades following the American Revolution.

THE Civil War put a halt to the nascent temperance movement, but a new wave of anti-alcohol organizations gathered force from the 1870s and into the early 20th century. These included the Prohibition Party, the Anti-Saloon League, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), surely the largest and most effective temperance group in the period. Led by Francis Willard from 1879 until her death in 1898, the WCTU sought an absolute ban on the production and consumption of drink. It established its own publishing house, putting forward temperance song books, handbooks on organizing chapters, polemical works against alcohol use, biographies of Willard and other women temperance leaders, the annual WCTU reports, and campaign literature supporting the state-by-state ratification of the 18th Amendment.

THE WCTU’s agenda extended beyond banning alcohol. It took progressive positions on labor reform, public health, education, and women’s suffrage. In fact, Francis Willard is probably better known as a suffragist than a prohibitionist. She was the first woman to be honored by a statue in National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol.

orange book cover of alcohol and hygiene

Alcohol and Hygiene; An Elementary Lesson Book for Schools

Julia Colman (1828-1909)

New York, 1882

Julia Colman—known as Aunt Julia--was a prolific author of temperance tracts, often shaping her writing to an audience of children. Alcohol and Hygiene was one of several books she intended for use in schools.

cover of catechism on alcohol

Catechism on Alcohol

Julia Colman (1828-1909)

New York, 1881

Written in a familiar question-and-answer format, Colman’s slender “catechism” could be used by parent, school teacher, or Sunday school teacher.

cover page of the clarion call, black text on yellow paper

The Clarion Call

Charles H. Mead

George E. Chambers

New York, 1891

Mead and Chambers, members of the Silver Lake Quartette, compiled and published a handful of temperance-themed song books, or “songsters.” These included Prohibition Bells and Songs of the New Crusade (1888) and Silver Tones (1892).

red book cover of anti-saloon league year book

The Anti-Saloon League Year Book 1913

Ernest Hurst Cherrington (1877–1950)

Westerville, Ohio, 1913

The Year Book was published annually or biannually between 1908 and 1934, and all issues were compiled by Cherrington.  It was a state-by-state almanac of alcohol-related information, providing statistics on production, licensing revenue, crime, and other matters useful for temperance activists.

book cover of the prohibition songster

The Prohibition Songster

J.N. Stearns

New York, 1886

The Temperance Movement generated hundreds of songs and numerous song books.  Songwriters often relied on familiar church hymns, popular tunes, and patriotic songs.  Thus, “A License Party Trick” borrows Stephen Foster’s tune, “Oh, Susanna”:

There was a great election once, (We need not name the date,)

Out in Ohio, and it lost Republicans the State.

That party runs the Government, With still house revenue,

And boasts much of its temperance, From its “high license” view.