The Temperance Movement gathered force through the 1800s. Many women in the Movement also played a historic role in establishing women’s rights.
Alcohol consumption in the country grew sharply in the 19th century, and was blamed for creating many social problems, including unemployment ,violence, and risk to homes and families. There was no regulation of production, sale or consumption of alcohol.
Saloons and Alcohol: for Men Only
Alcohol consumption was mostly a men’s activity in the 19th century. The saloon as a man’s world was seen as a threat to the home and family. All too often, the result was serious physical, financial and emotional harm for women. These abuses led to a growing belief of the need for legal protections. Early activists–primarily churches and religious leaders–publicly denounced alcohol consumption and promoted abstinence and other groups and societies followed, creating a widespread Temperance Movement. These organizations’ members were primarily male, but gradually women were accepted.
For many women, their participation in temperance was seen as an extension of their roles as wives, mothers and keepers of family values. Political activism was seen as men’s activity.. With the expansion of education, participation in the workforce and in a social protest movement like temperance, women began to question their proscribed role as quiet supporters of family morality and began to demand direct political participation. Still, their role was limited in the early years. When women’s rights supporter Antoinette Brown rose to speak at the 1853 World Temperance Society meeting in New York, men roared their disapproval for over an hour.
Suffragists Stanton and Anthony Active in Temperance Movement
Both the temperance movement and the eventual women’s rights movement focused on societal reform, and shared many of the same leaders. The women’s rights movement took from the ideals and experiences of temperance work to promote women’s suffrage. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who would become national leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, were among the early supporters of the temperance movement. Stanton was elected president of the State Women’s Temperance Society in 1852, and Anthony was elected secretary As their partnership grew in effectiveness, the two women transformed the temperance society into a forum for feminism and a campaign for women’s suffrage.
Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)
Public acceptance of temperance groups was greater than for women’s rights groups. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) founded in Cleveland Ohio in 1874, soon became the largest women’s organization in the country. Through education and example the WCTU hoped to obtain pledges of total abstinence from alcohol.
WCTU quickly became the largest woman’s organization in the United States. In 1879, Frances Willard became president of the WCTU and turned to organizing political means, as well as education and example, to achieve total abstinence. Willard pointed out that women must have the right to vote to succeed in cause of temperance. The WCTU acted on this inter-connectedness of the two reform movements, acknowledging the crusade against alcohol was also a protest by women of their lack of civil liberties.
Temperance Movement hopes for prohibition were realized in 1919 when the Congress ratified the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. A complete ban on alcohol took effect with the Volstead Act later that year. President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the act, but Congress overrode the Veto and the United States became officially dry in January 1920.
The law changed again in 1933, when the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, ending prohibition.Even though the women of the Temperance Movement did not achieve the goal of legally restricting alcohol production and sale, many of them remained active in the movement for women’s suffrage.
- Crusades: Women’s Christian Temperance Union/Early History, wctu.com
- Hartman, Dorothy : Women’s Roles in the Late 19th Century
- Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, connerprairie.org.
- Temperance Movement. jrank.org/pages/10714/Temperance-Movement.html
- Hunt, Jeff. Defining Moments in Women’s Suffrage 2006. Omnigraphics.Inc.