Dr. Dio Lewis, officially Diocletian Lewis (1823-1886), was a temperance leader. However, he was also a preacher, feminist, social reformer, and food/health faddist. And many considered Lewis to be an eccentric.
His father had been a “notorious drunkard.” Perhaps that led to his strong belief that alcohol was a great evil.
Lewis illegally used the title Doctor and sometimes practiced medicine. However, he only had a degree in homeopathic studies. Nevertheless, he used his title and oratorical gift to good effect in promoting temperance.
In the 1880’s, Lewis and his mother, Delecta, began leading groups of followers into saloons. There they prayed for their closure as well as for the souls of the owners and bartenders. He later preached in churches claiming almost miraculous results from such “Visitation Bands.”
Revitalized Temperance Movement
Lewis’ actions and lectures inspired others to similar action. This led to the Women’s Crusade against alcohol. The crusade revitalized the moribund temperance movement. In turn, some of the women in the Crusade formed the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).
Lewis published books and tracts on a variety of subjects. A common theme in his writing was the “evil” of even moderate alcohol consumption. Southern and eastern Europeans tended to drink widely and often. Therefore, he was hostile to immigrants. He and many other temperance supporters viewed them as immoral and degenerate.
And what is the secret of their demoralization? The women drink!!! Every woman, as well as every man; and during the time I was there, I never heard a woman decline to drink, except because of sickness. And one hour after dinner you could see the effects of wine-drinking in the face and eye of every women of the company. (Eastman)
For this reason, Lewis and many other temperance activists opposed immigration. Their hostility typically extended to Italians, Jews, Irish, Germans and many other groups.
Much later, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a major supporter and defender of Prohibition. However, Lewis strongly supported personal liberty and opposed imposing alcohol prohibition.
Resources: Dr. Dio Lewis
- Eastman, M. The Biography of Dio Lewis. NY: Fowler & Wells, 1891.
- Behr, E. Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America. NY: Arcade, 1996.
- Burns, E. The Spirits of America. A Social History of Alcohol. Philadelphia: Temple U Press, 2004.
- Rose, K. Women and the Repeal of Prohibition. NY: New York U Press, 1996.
Readings about Lewis
- Dr. Dio Lewis’ School for Young Ladies. Concord, Mass. 1867. Cambridge, MA: Welch, Bigelow, and Co., 1867.
- Anon. Dio Lewis’ Weekly for Jolly Folks. Boston: Eastern.
- Leonard, T. Reading for Dr. Dio Lewis’s Young Ladies’ School. Lexington, MA: 1865.
- Natterson, P. Dio Lewis and Physical Fitness. Thesis. Harvard U, 1985.
- Newcomb, H. A Review of Dio Lewis’ Objections to Prohibitory Liquor Laws, on the Ground of the Restriction of Personal Liberty. Hyde Park, MA: Norfolk County Gazette, 1874.
- Vest, E. When Dio Lewis came to Dixon. J Illinois State Hist Soc 40, 298-312.
- Welch, P. Dio Lewis’ Normal Institute for Physical Education. J Phys Ed Rec, 1994, 65(3), 29.
Publications by Lewis
- In a Nutshell: Suggestions to College Students. NY: Clarke, 1883.
- The Dio Lewis Treasury. NY: Canfield, 1887.
- Catalogue of Dio Lewis’s School for Young Ladies. Lexington, Mass, 1865. Boston: J. Wilson and Sons, 1865.
- Dio Lewis’ Monthly.
- With others. The New Gymnastics for Men, Women, and Children. Boston: Tichnor and Fields, 1862. (Rep 2012)