People tended to call the the Ladies’ Temperance Benevolent Society the Martha Washingtonians. It rolls off the tongue so much easier. Six temperance activists, not all women, formed the Martha Washingtonians in New York City. They did so on May 12, 1841. Although not all of the organizers were women, only women could be members.
Women were essential to the success of the temperance movement. And the Martha Washingtonians appeared early in the movement. An example shows this. It was well after the Civil War (1861-1865) before the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was formed (1874). Thus, the Martha Washingtonians existed one-third of a century before the WCTU.
Temperance groups originally promoted moderation and self-restraint in drinking alcohol. However, the Society was also early in calling for in calling for complete alcohol abstinence.
Ladies’ Temperance Benevolent Society
The Society was not connected to any religious group. Thus, members did not think of themselves as belonging to a religious missionary society. Instead, they thought of themselves as belonging to a society of missionaries. Their mission was to promote abstention from alcohol.
Their Society was also a benevolent one. Thus, they also wanted to help destitute former “drunkards” to productive lives. That included stable family life.
Women who joined the Society first signed a pledge never to drink alcohol. Second, they paid an initiation fee. Third, they paid monthly membership dues. Fourth, they collected used clothing for males and females. Sometimes they also made clothes as a group.
“She stretcheth out her hand to the poor. Yea, she stretcheth forth her hands to the needy.” Solomon
Those who received help from the Society also signed pledge to abstain from alcohol. For men, the clothing was used to make them presentable for job interviews. Also, women and their children often had poor clothes.
To promote alcohol abstention, the Society gave temperance banners to various groups. For example, it awarded a banner to a fire station on condition all firefighters signed an alcohol abstinence pledge.
By the time the Civil War began, the Ladies’ Temperance Benevolent Society or Martha Washingtonians was only a memory.
Martha Washingtonians – Ladies’ Temperance Benevolent Society
- Alexander, R. “We are engaged as a band of sisters.” J Am Hist, l75(3), 763–785.
- Johnson, L. Martha Washingtonians or Ladies’ Temperance Benevolent Society. NY: Saxton & Miles, 1843.
- Tyrrel, I. Women and temperance in America. Civil War Hist, 28(2), 128-152.
At this point you know much more about Martha Washingtonians than most people. So kudos!