The Knights of Father Mathew was a Catholic temperance society that originated in Ireland. It promoted complete abstinence from all alcohol. The Knights was formed in 1838 by Theobald Mathew in Cork, Ireland. He’s generally called Father Mathew.
Branches of the group spread throughout Ireland. Fr. Mathew also traveled in England and Scotland (1842). He visited the US (1849 to 1851). Everywhere he preach temperance. He was a major world figure in promoting temperance. It has been estimated that 7,000,000 persons took the pledge of abstinence under his influence.
Father Mathew began his work in the U.S. in 1849. He was entertained by the President. He was also granted a seat within the bar of the Senate and on the floor of the House. Only one foreigner, General Lafayette, had previously been given that honor. He was lauded at that time by famous statesman Henry Clay.
Fr. Mathew spent two and one-half years in the U.S. He traveled 37,000 miles, and visited 25 states. He administered the temperance pledge in over 300 cities and towns. More than 500,000 people heard him speak.
The Knights of Father Mathew in the US was formed in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1872. In 1881, it added life insurance as a benefit to members. There were two categories, active and honorary members.
For active membership, one had to be Catholic. Then be between age 16 and 70. Then pass a physical exam. For honorary membership, one only needed to be a “practical Catholic.”
Chapters or “councils” were able to form branches of Catholic women. These were called “‘Ladies’ Auxiliaries of the Knights of Father Mathew.” The Ladies’ Auxiliaries were especially active in promoting temperance among children.
The Knights of Father Mathew and the Ladies’ Auxiliaries were affiliated in 1895. That was with the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America.
Some male members were buried with the abbreviations KFM or K. of F. M. That showed membership in the Knights of Father Mathew. Some females had LAKFM on their tombstones. That was for Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Father Mathew.
Knights of Father Mathew
- The Knights of Father Mathew. The Catholic Encyclopedia, v. XIV. NY: Appleton, 1912.
- Fehlandt, A. A Century of Drink Reform in the U.S. NY.: Eaton and Mains, 1904.
- Nelson, K. The Knights of Father Matthew. In: J. Blocker, et al., (Eds.) Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003.
- Stearns, J. (Ed.) Temperance in all Nations. NY.: Nat Temp Soc, c. 1893.