Caroline Merrick was born in 1825 on her family’s plantation near Jackson, Louisiana. She became a leading temperance advocate in that state. At age 15 she married 30-year-old Edwin Thomas Merrick. He was a leading resident. Twice he was elected chief justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
Influence of Willard
Merrick was not initially interested in temperance. She was personally encouraged by Frances Willard to join the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Caroline Merrick wrote that ‘I became president of the New Orleans WCTU not from deep conviction of duty on the temperance question, but because I could not resist the inspiration of Frances Willard’s convictions.’ However, her passion for the movement grew. She later became president of the Louisiana WCTU.
Frances Willard was impressed with Caroline Merrick’s abilities and wrote that she was a ‘lady who can make the WCTU a success, even in the volatile city of Mardi Gras.’
Of the WCTU Caroline Merrick wrote that
‘It should be clearly understood that the legitimate work of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is to close the open saloon, and not, as many mistake, to interfere with personal liberty by forcing total abstinence upon the individual. The members of the organization in the interests of consistency must be total abstainers; and because science pronounces alcohol a poison and an active peril in the human body, a vigorous educational propaganda is kept up in order that future generations may be protected by knowledge against the dangers of alcoholic drinks. The main point at issue is that the State has no right to license an institution which is a corrupter of public morals and a menace to social life.’1
Caroline Merrick felt strongly about the saloon. She believed that
‘The saloon hazards the well-being of every citizen that is born to a State; it annuls the work of the church and the college; disintegrates, degrades and destroys family life – the unit of the State; impoverishes the home, pauperizes the child and debases manhood; fills almshouses, jails and insane asylums; lays the burden of the support of these institutions on the State; the taxes which all the people have paid for their mutual protection and development are unrighteously diverted to the sustenance of the victims of the saloon; the State protects a small class of citizens.’2
Caroline Merrick worked closely with the very powerful Mary Hunt of the WCTU. They successfully convinced the state legislature to pass a law in 1888. It was known as the Scientific Temperance Instruction bill. It mandated the teaching of temperance beliefs in all public schools in the state. The WCTU then sent its members into the school classrooms. There they observe the instruction to ensure that it was strongly anti-alcohol.
Her correct name was Caroline, not Carolyn Merrick. It is incorrectly reported in Wikipedia and some other non-academic sources.
1 Merrick, Caroline. Old Times in Dixie Land. A Southern Matron’s Memories. NY: Grafton, 1901, p. 184.
2 Merrick, Caroline. Ibid.
Lindig, C. The Path from the Parlor. Louisiana Women 1879-1920. Lafayette, LA: U Southwestern Louisiana, 1986.
Merrick, Caroline. Old Times in Dixie Land. A Southern Matron’s Memories. NY: Grafton, 1901, p. 184.