Growth of Temperance in America (U.S.): Timeline

The U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) diverted attention to more pressing matters. This disrupted the growth of temperance work. And the work was essentially destroyed in the South. The massive rebuilding needed there inhibited growth of the movement for years.

However, by 1870, concerns about temperance again largely returned. The successes and failures of temperance before the War were instructive. The importance of women in the movement was clear. They became a major part of the fight. They, in turn, effectively used children to promote the growth of temperance.1

Growth of Temperance in America


growth of temperanceThe temperance movement had a pervasive impact on American life and culture. It can be illustrated with an example.2

To the right is a Currier and Ives print of 1848. In it, George Washington bid farewell to his officers. He had a drink in his hand. There was a bottle of alcohol on the table.

Below is a politically correct re-engraved version of 1876. Gone is all evidence of drinking. The glass of alcohol disappeared from Washington’s hand. The bottle of alcohol was replaced with a hat.

growth of temperance
Politically correct Washington


The Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America was formed. A total of 177 Catholic temperance groups with 26,481 members joined to create it.3


The Knights of Father Mathew was a total abstinence organization founded in Ireland by Father Theobald Mathew. The Knights group in the U.S. was formed in 1872.5
• The Woman’s Temperance Crusade began in Hillsboro, Ohio. It started the day after visiting minister Dr. Diocletian Lewis spoke on temperance.

Eliza Thompson (generally known as ‘Mother Thompson‘) led about 70 women from the church. They went to saloons in the small town. “Every day they visited the saloons and the drug stores where  liquor was sold. They prayed on sawdust floors or, being denied entrance, knelt on snowy pavements before the doorways, until almost all the sellers capitulated.”6

The Crusade spread quickly and one writer asserted that “In fifty days it [the Crusade] drove the liquor traffic, horse, foot, and dragoons, out of two hundred and fifty towns and villages, increased by one hundred percent the attendance at church and   decreased that at the criminal courts in like proportion.”7 The Crusades ended during the spring of 1874. But they inspired many women across the country to get involved in the temperance movement.8


growth of temperanceThe Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed.10 It did not at first accept Catholic, Jewish or African American women. Nor women who had not been born in North America.11


• Congressman Henry Blair of New Hampshire introduced a prohibition amendment to the Constitution for the first time in Congress.12
World WCTU founded.


• Teetotaling First Lady Lucy Hayes banned alcohol from all White House events. Her nickname was “Lemonade Lucy.” But the President encouraged, if not made, this decision. This was because of the political power of the temperance movement.13
• In “Grappling with the Monster,” T. S. Arthur asserted that “The CURSE is upon us, and there is but one CURE: Total Abstinence, by the help of God, for the Individual, and Prohibition for the State.”14
Frances Willard became president of the WCTU.15 It had 1,118 chapters (unions) in 24 states and territories. And it had 26,843 members.16


• A second wave of state prohibition laws occurred between 1880 and 1890. A number of US states adopted state-wide prohibition.17
• By the late 1880s there were over 100 anti-alcohol groups in Arkansas. They had hundreds of chapters and many thousands of members.18


•The WCTU established its powerful Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges. Mary Hunt  was the national head. Ms. Hunt became the de facto judge of which temperance books could be adopted in all the states and territories of the country.19
• Kansas became the first state to have a constitutional amendment for state-wide prohibition.20
• About 100,000 copies of the temperance book Ten Nights in a Bar Room had been sold by 1880.21  


After Chester A. Arthur assumed the presidency, the WCTU visited him. They insistently pressed him to make White House dry. He finally thundered this to one member. “Madam, I may be President of the United States, but what I do in my private life is nobody’s damned business!”22

Most temperance writers said that drinking was a sin. The fact that Jesus made and drank wine caused a problem for them. So they they formed the “two wine doctrine.” They contend that Jesus actually made and drank unfermented grape juice. Only when wine caused problems was it really wine, not grape juice.4


The WCTU began a successful campaign to require anti-alcohol education in every state. Mary H. Hunt directed the campaign.23


The WCTU had 2,580 unions in 42 states and territories. It had 73,176 members. That was a large increase over the 26,843 members in 1879.24


• The WCTU sent a representative on a trip around the world. She promoted the founding of World WCTU groups in all countries.26
• The Prohibition Party candidate for the presidency received 150,890 votes. That was 1.50% of the total votes.27


• Dakota Territory approved prohibition by a vote of 15,570 to 15,337.28
• Senators Henry Blair of New Hampshire and Preston Plum of Kansas introduced another proposed prohibition amendment to the Constitution.29

 Mary Hunt and the WTCU taught that alcohol was a poison. So they insisted that school books never mention contradictory facts. For example, that alcohol was commonly prescribed by doctors for both health and medicinal purposes.32


• Coca-Cola was promoted as a temperance beverage.30
• Mary Hunt convinced Congress to require the use of WCTU-approved texts in Washington, D.C., and in all U.S. territories.31


The U.S. Supreme Court upheld enforcement of a newly enacted state prohibition law. That law did not compensate brewers whose property could no longer be used for their intended purpose. Therefore, they lost most of their value. This was a major victory for prohibitionists.33


Clinton Fisk was the Prohibition Party‘s presidential candidate in the election of 1888.  Winning 249,506 votes, his was one of the best showings of any candidate ever fielded by the Party. Fisk University was named after him.34


• Prohibition Party candidate Kittel Halvorson of Minnesota was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.35
• The U.S. Supreme Court held that “beer sent into the [dry] State of Iowa in sealed kegs cannot be seized without violating the Constitution.”36
• The Wilson Original Packages Act “provided that all intoxicating beverages shipped interstate would be subject to the laws of the destination state upon arrival.”37
• The WCTU had chapters or unions in every state and territory. Its membership was 149,527. That was over double the membership of 73,176 in 1883.38


The Wine and Spirits Association was formed to counter the influence of the WCTU and other temperance groups.39


Prohibition Party success at the polls reached its peaked in 1892. John Dedwell, its presidential candidate, received 270,710 votes.40
• The WCTU had a membership of about 150,000 women across the nation.41

The WCTU’s Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction taught as scientifically proved fact that
• The majority of beer drinkers die from dropsy. (An old term for edema, or swelling of soft tissues.)
• [Alcohol] turns the blood to water.
• [Referring to invalids.] A man who never drinks liquor will get well, where a drinking man would surely die.9


• The Ohio Anti-Saloon League was founded. Two years later it became the Anti-Saloon League of America.42
• A group of scholars formed the prestigious Committee of Fifty for the Investigation of the Liquor Problem. It found that the WCTU’s program of temperance instruction was seriously defective.

It concluded that “under the name of ‘˜Scientific Temperance Instruction’ there has been grafted upon the public school system of nearly all our States an educational scheme relating to alcohol which is neither scientific, nor temperate, nor instructive.”43
• The American Temperance University was established in Harriman, Tennessee. Although it closed in 1908,44 its graduates include some major temperance leaders.


The WCTU began a three year national boycott against root beer. It falsely assumed that the beverage was alcoholic. It abandoned the boycott in 1898. This was after a lab found that a bottle of root beer had about the same amount of alcohol as half a loaf of bread.45  See a similar objection to another non-alcoholic beverage, Cheerwine, by MADD. (For more, see MADD.)


• William Ashley “Billy” Sunday began preaching. He became one of the most influential promoters of temperance. He died a wealthy man in 1935.46
• The Prohibition Party nominated Joshua Levering for President. He received 125,072. But in a party fight, Charles Bentley was also nominated. He received 19,363 votes.47


• The Anti-Saloon League opened legislative offices in Washington, DC.48
Lillian Sedwick  was born. She became head of the Marion County, Indiana (Indianapolis) Women’s Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). She was also head of the Indiana state WCTU.49  For more, see KKK and WCTU: Partners in Prohibition.49  


The growth of temperance sentiment  was very slow at first. But over time it led to the growth of temperance activities. By the 1870s, they had combined to form a strong temperance movement. It became very powerful. And it was pushing for prohibition.

We now explore the History of Prohibition.


Popular Books

1    History of Alcohol Prohib. Schaffer Drug Lib site.

2    Prohib.

3    Bland, J. Hibernian Crusade.

4.   Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse, ch. 3.

5      Nelson, K. The Knights of Father Matthew. In Blocker, J, et al. (eds.) Alcohol and Temp in Modern History.

6     Tyler, H. Where Prayer and Purpose Meet, cited in Crusades.

7     Gordon, E., Women Torchbearers, cited in Crusades.

8     Eastman, M. The Biog of Dio Lewis.

9      Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits, p. 143.    

10   Hist of the WCTU.

11   KKK and WCTU.

12   Hist of Alcohol Prohib. Schaffer Drug Lib website

13   Lucy Hayes.

14   Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum, p. 15. (Great on the growth of temperance.)

15   Frances Willard.

16   Fordham U, WCTU: Growth.

17   Hist of Alcohol Prohib. Schaffer Drug Lib website.

18   Arkansas.

19   Billings, J. Aspects of the Liquor Problem, 1903, p. 22.

20   History of KS Liquor Laws.

21   Asimov, I. (ed.) Book of Facts, p. 313.

22   Will-Weber, M. Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt, p. 170.

23   Mezvinsky, N. STI in the schools. Hist Ed Q., 7, 48-56.

24  WCTU: Growth.

25   WWCTU.

26   Cherrington, E. The Evolution of Prohib, pp. 220-221. (Good facts on growth of temperance.)

27  1884 Election.

28   Cherrington, ibid., p. 223.

29   Hist of Alcohol Prohib. Schaffer Drug Lib website.

30   Blocker, J., et al. Alcohol and Temp in Modern History. Vol. 1, xxxi-xiv. (Good coverage of growth of temperance.)

31   Tyack, D. and James, T. Moral majorities and the school curriculum. Teach Coll Rec., 86, pp. 515-516.

32    Hanson, ibid.

33   Freyer, T. Mugler v Kansas, 123 U.S. 623 (1887). In: Hall, K. (ed.) The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court, p. 654.

34   Clinton Bowen Fisk.

35   Prohib Party Hist.

36   Cherrington, ibid., p. 237.

37   Buying Wine Online, p. 5.

38   WCTU: Growth.

39   Regan, G. and Regan, M. The Book of Bourbon, ch. 1.

40    Cherrington, pp. 165-169.

41   Tyack and James, p. 517.

42   Burke, W. The ASL as a political force. Ann Am Acad Pol Soc Sci.,1908, 32, pp. 27-37.

43   Billings, p. 44.

44   Furnas, p. 323.

45   How the temp movement almost killed root beer.

46   Allen, R. Billy Sunday, p. 47. Boyd, J. Parties, Problems and Leaders of 1896. (1896)

48   Cherrington, p. 264.

49   Moore, L. Citizen Klansmen, p. 220.