A Woman's Place - The Tumult Of Reform
temperance women liquor american life education father status nineteenth century
The Early Status of Women. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a woman's place was almost exclusively in the home, though even before the Revolution there had been some who voiced discontent with their status. Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy, had warned her husband in the days immediately preceding the Revolution that "if particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound to obey the laws in which we have no voice or representation." Despite such protests, an unmarried woman was made the ward of male relatives, while a wife was considered part of her husband's chattel. As late as 1850 in most states a husband possessed the right to inflict corporal punishment on his wife. Although women were active in church and school activities, they rarely participated in political or social life. Most foreigners commented upon the absence of feminine touches in American society. America was distinctly a man's world.
Women as Agitators. No facet of their secondary status escaped the notice of energetic women. The low quality of female education led Catharine Beecher, Emma Willard, and Mary Lyon to establish academies for the education of girls. Margaret Fuller, whose free-thinking father had given her a man's education, fought and argued for the admission of women into the professions; intellectual recognition for women commensurate with their abilities was her goal. Susan B. Anthony spoke for an increasing number of women teachers when she protested against the "absurd notion that women have not intellectual and moral faculties sufficient for anything but domestic concerns." It seemed implausible to her that women, if their intellect were deficient, should have the responsibility for "educating our future Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen." Harriot K. Hunt and Elizabeth Blackwell gained admission into the medical profession after surmounting the hostility of men. The admission of Antoinette Brown to Oberlin College in 1847 proved a small but significant step toward the opening of higher education to women.
The Women's Rights Movement. Feminist agitation came to a head in 1848 when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton convened a women's rights congress at Seneca Falls, New York. In a declaration similar to the nation's Declaration of Independence of 1776, but in which the offending culprit was altered to read "man" rather than "George III," the assembled women indicted "man" for having endeavored "in every way he could, to destroy [woman's] confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life." It would be seventy years before equality was achieved, but the struggle had been firmly launched.
The fight to destroy Demon Rum has had an extraordinary impact on the United States. Its history reveals an aspect of American life which is infrequently noted - the often unpleasant willingness of Americans to assume the role of their brothers' keepers. What might be dismissed as presumptuous interference elsewhere has often been elevated to civic duty in America, where reform frequently has led to efforts to legislate moral attitudes. The prevalence of liquor consumption, however, made the first efforts to achieve temperance unlikely to succeed. The loneliness of the American frontier made liquor a welcome release, and even the heartiest of prohibitionists admitted that "ardent spirits were used as a preventive of disease." Alcohol was also regarded as a necessary celebratory beverage. There could not be a harvest, a barn-raising, a housewarming, a log-rolling, a husking bee, a quilting bee, a wedding, a christening, or a funeral without the aid of liquor. Liquor even served as a medium of exchange in isolated portions of the West and South.
The Temperance Message. A less determined set of reformers might have despaired of success, but nineteenth-century temperance advocates were infused with sublime confidence. Originated by the clergy, the campaign against intemperance grew throughout the first three decades of the nineteenth century. It was emphasized that the elimination of the millions of dollars annually spent on liquor would enable the breadwinner to provide better food and clothing for his family. Correlations were made between intemperance and crime in order to demonstrate that the one led inevitably to the other. Prisons, reform schools, workhouses, and poorhouses were assumed by temperance advocates to be the ultimate destination of the drunkard. According to the reformers the exclusively temperate life alone could provide the dignity of republican virtue and the nobility of Christian purity.
The Organizing of Temperance Reform. In February 1826, Dr. Justin Edwards convened a meeting of the American Tract Society at Boston to organize the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance. Soon a flood of journals and pamphlets, all preaching temperance, covered the nation. At public meetings efforts were made to obtain pledges from the participants to give up liquor; Sunday schools instructed their charges both in the articles of faith and on the sinfulness of intoxicating beverages. Within three years more than a thousand temperance societies, with a total of one hundred thousand members, had been activated; by 1833, there were 4,000 locals and 500,000 members, and in the following year membership had doubled. Only the South seemed impervious to the onslaught of the campaign.
Disagreement among the Reformers. The crest of success brought with it unexpected problems. The ultraprohibitionists wanted condemnation not only of hard spirits but also of wine and malt beverages. Majority sentiment within the prohibitionist societies refused to support this extended denunciation. The extremists also pressed, unsuccessfully, for condemnation of "the traffic in ardent spirits" as "morally wrong." By Temperance in the 1840s. Renewed temperance agitation came in the early 1840s, when a group known as the Washingtonians adopted camp meeting and revival practices to persuade imbibers into relinquishing the habit. At huge rallies young children circulated through the crowds to obtain signatures for "cold water pledges." Poetry and song were also employed. Preachers passionately intoned the effects of drinking from "the cursed bowl," and led audiences in singing the maudlin sentiments of "Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me Now." In thousands of churches, parish halls, and playhouses, audiences sat enraptured by the dramatization of Timothy Shay Arthur's Ten Nights in a Barroom and What I Saw There. Reformed drunkards took the evangelical circuit to exhort others to follow their path. Irish immigrants, who had achieved a certain notoriety for their drinking habits, received the temperance guidance of Father Theobald Mathew, a gentle Irish priest who had arrived in the country in 1849. Although divided, the temperance movement stood upon the verge of its most substantial ante-bellum success.
The Effect of the Dow Law. Between 1830 and 1840, regulation of the liquor trade was established in several states. By 1845, one hundred towns in Massachusetts had exercised local option to terminate liquor sales. In 1846, under the leadership of the redoubtable Neal Dow, Maine instituted state wide prohibition. The successful passage of the Dow Law provoked similar campaigns in other states. Vermont followed the lead of Maine in 1852, and was in turn followed by Rhode Island and by the Minnesota Territory in the same year; by Michigan in 1853; and by Connecticut in 1854. The relentless reformer, Gerrit Smith, brought about the same result in New York, and Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, and Delaware joined the ranks of the dry states in 1855. But prohibition was invariably followed by second thoughts; states frequently repealed prohibition as swiftly as they had established it. Furthermore, many sincere temperance men doubted whether legislation would provide the promised radical and nearly instantaneous cure. Fragmented among a host of societies, distracted by antislavery agitation, the effort to reform drinking habits had practically been reduced to a whisper by 1860.