Temperance Movement

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1820  - 1933
The excessive consumption of alcohol had impacted American families in the form of unemployment, physical violence, and other issues. Perceiving alcohol consumption to be a sin, and revitalized by the religious vigor of the Second Great Awakening (1790s-1840s), many Christian ministers, including Lyman Beecher, promoted the curbing of alcohol use (i.e., temperance) and established important temperance organizations, like the American Temperance Society (1826).

Christian women also played a pivotal role in the movement. Amelia Bloomer established an important temperance journal (The Lily, 1849), while famous female leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Frances Willard founded prominent temperance societies, including the New York State Women’s Temperance Society in 1852 and Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1874.

The movement achieved considerable success throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Through temperance initiatives, both state and national legislatures began banning alcohol. However, after Prohibition (1920-1933) proved unsuccessful, the movement dwindled considerably.

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The temperance movement was a movement in the United States to curb and ultimately discontinue the consumption of alcohol. It was largely led by Christian women and men throughout the19th and early 20th centuries. While the political battles over alcohol were fiercely debated on both the state and national stage, the temperance movement eventually spread throughout Christian communities as far away as Europe and Asia.

During the late 18th century, small groups of concerned residents began to ban the production of certain spirits amid concerns of their deleterious effects. Around this time, the consumption of alcohol had steadily increased to rampant levels. Women and children were often completely dependent on working males in the family to provide for the family and were highly affected by unemployment, physical violence and many other problems associated with alcoholism. By 1813, temperance associations were established in Connecticut, Virginia, New York and Massachusetts.

Many of the leading proponents of abstinence from alcohol were Christian ministers invigorated by the idealism of the ongoing Second Great Awakening. These preachers claimed that the consumption of alcohol was a sin that led people away from the teachings of Jesus. Lyman Beecher of Connecticut was a Presbyterian minister who gave sermons on temperance as early as 1814. On Jan. 10, 1826, he and Dr. Justin Edwards cofounded the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, also known as the American Temperance Society (ATS). Within 10 years, this organization grew to include more than 8,000 local chapters and 1.5 million members. While the ATS was interdenominational and relatively diverse, there remained both hidden and overt denouncements of alcoholism within the growing Catholic immigrant community.

Another early influential voice in the movement was John Bartholomew Gough, who traveled throughout the United States and Europe to give speeches on temperance. For 17 years, Gough spoke solely about temperance to more than 5,000 audiences. The topic of temperance became a popular commodity; some of the more notable theatrical dramas of the time include John Blake White’s The Forgers (1825) and W. H. Smith’s The Drunkard (1841).

Many women leaders played significant roles in the temperance movement. In 1849, Amelia Bloomer began publishing The Lily, a journal originally about temperance. The Lily is recognized as the first women’s newspaper and was intended for members of the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society formed the previous year. By 1852, famous suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the New York State Women’s Temperance Society.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in 1874 and eventually spread across several continents. While the organization focused on several different issues of social reform, its two key tenets were the spread of Christianity and abstinence from alcohol. Frances Willard was a founding member of the WCTU who was later elected president in 1879. Willard’s powerful message of Christian feminism stressed gender equality in the American household. Another key temperance advocate was Carry Nation. Soon after starting a WCTU branch in Medicine Lodge, Kan., during the late 19th century, Nation gained notoriety through her destruction of liquor bottles and saloons with rocks and even a hatchet.

The temperance movement achieved considerable success throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its first legislative success was in Maine in 1851 with the passage of the Maine Law to ban the sale of alcohol. By 1855, 12 other states passed similar temperance laws.

In 1893, the Anti-Saloon League was founded by the Rev. Howard Hyde Russell. This lobbying group organized a massive network of Christian groups and politicians to eventually pass the Eighteenth Amendment on National Prohibition, put into effect in 1920. While Prohibition did not stop the consumption of alcohol in the United States and in fact was repealed just 13 years later, it highlights the immense gains made by the temperance movement.
Willard, Frances
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady
Smith, Hannah Whitall
The Second Great Awakening
First Wave of Feminism
Woman's Christian Temperance Union

Women's Christian Temperance Union sign- Library of Congress, LC-USF34-081219-D

Lyman Beecher portrait- Internet Archive- Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., of Lyman Beecher, vol 2

Carry Nation with hatchet- Wikimedia Commons

The Lily, first issue- Wikimedia Commons

Anti-Saloon League, Committee of One Thousand- Hathi Trust- from The Battle for National Prohibition
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Dean Ryuta Adachi

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