When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History is one of my sources.
The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.
If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.
Susanna Barrows and Robin Room edit this 1991 collection of articles on the history of drinking in modern culture.
“The consumption of alcohol was one of Engels’s benchmarks for the increasing exploitation of laborers, the breakdown of communal life, and the demoralization of the working class.”
“From a clinical perspective, history often seems irrelevant or even counter-productive. A clinician’s professional style of optimistic pragmatism can better sustain the illusion of progress if current methods can be assumed to reflect an unbroken chain of progress from the past and if potential alternatives can be viewed as novel departures not weighted down with the negatives of the past.”
“Where alcohol was previously unknown—in North America, Australia, the Pacific Islands [Mac Marshall and Leslie Marshall, “Holy and Unholy Spirits: The Effects of Missionization on Alcohol Use in Western Micronesia,” Journal of Pacific History 11 (1976): 135-166]—its introduction served as a potent instrument of power for whites in frontier circumstances.”
“Although distillation techniques had been known for several centuries in Europe, the shift in the status of spirits from medicine to consumable seems to have begun in the sixteenth century.[R. Gordon Wasson, “Distilled Spirits Dissemination,” Drinking and Drug Practices Surveyor 19 (1984):6]”
“Temperance clearly made greater headway in Protestant countries than in Catholic ones and among Protestants than among Catholics…. But there are some strong anomalies. As Bretherton underlines, Irish Catholics organized a strong temperance movement. In Protestant countries or groups temperance often came to be associated with dissenting and anticlerical sentiments.”
“By and large, temperance was strongest in spirits-drinking societies and weakest in wine-drinking societies—which in Europe means stronger in colder climates and weaker in warmer ones.”
“In most societies temperance started as the concern of a relatively elite group, sometimes about their own drinking but more often about the drinking of others in less privileged positions.”
The Many Worlds of Drink in Europe and America
Drinking in the western world was heavily influenced by the public house: the bar, tavern, or saloon.
Puritans in Taverns: Law and Popular Culture in Colonial Massachusetts, 1630-1720
David W. Conroy writes about the political influence of the tavern in local politics.
Under the Puritans in America, “Every man in a position of authority became invested with the duty to restrain consumption among those under his care and government; indiscriminate gatherings of men to drink became symptomatic of disorder in the hierarchy of social control.”
Momentum behind passing more legislation, and for stricter enforcement, “ground to a halt” by 1720.
“Studies by G. B. Warden and Gary Nash suggest that by the 1720s taverns began to play a role in town and provincial politics.”
“It was in Boston, the cultural and political capital of New England, that magistrates encountered the most difficulty in controlling the incidence of public houses.”
Discusses changes in England that brought about a governmental distrust of drinking places. England’s population “nearly doubled” between 1540 and 1640. Alehouses “began to be perceived as a potential threat to the king’s order” because it served as a meeting place for the new breed of “idle, masterless men—often hungry and undernourished—” who “lived outside the governance of patriarchal households.”
Taverns at the edges of royal forests served as “points of rendezvous and sale for poachers.”
Puritans opposed the many feasting days, such as Candlemas, Shrovetide, Mid-Lent, Easter, Mayday, Whitsuntide, and Midsummer. Coming to America broke the hold of tradition, and most of these did, in fact, disappear, including Christmas. When the few came back, they were broken from their agricultural connection.
“Boston tavernkeepers served beverages by quarts and pints more often than any other quantity juding from inventories of the 1680s and 1690s.” This was while it was illegal to sell “above one half-pint of wine to one person at one time.” “Witnesses waiiting to be called into [tavernmaster John] Turner’s court chamber violated the drinking laws even as justices sat in the other room.”
There was a drop in church membership in the 1680s and 90s, and even further loss of salary (for minsters) and “support for the church.”
“A new social process had begun to emerge within popular assemblies in taverns. The 1720s witnessed not only an expansion in the incidence of licensed houses and a relaxation of restraints but also an end to censorship of the press and an expansion of the use of print to mold and shape public opinion. Conflict between the assembly and royal government did much to spur this expansion. By 1737 [ciderman James] Pitson had thirty-one pamphlets and eight-eight books on his barroom shelves. Secular issues and ideas began to compete with religious instruction. Massachusetts taverns did become distinctive from their English counterparts, not because of a lower incidence of taverns or lower levels of consumption but rather because they would become instruments for the more complete integration of local patrons into active political participation over the course of the eighteenth century.”
Social Drinking in Old Regime Paris
Thomas Brennan’s paper mentions the growth of acceptance of public drunkenness in Paris. Wine was an important part of socializing as well as a nourishing food.
People went to cabarets frequently and throughout the week, as opposed to binging in the taverns in the suburbs on Sundays. Of course, some did that as well, but police records indicate fewer did.
“An ordinance on the punishment of drunkards (ivrognes) in 1536 declared that “whoever shall be found drunk [ivre]” was to be put in prison on a diet of bread and water for a first offense and whipped for recurrences…. It further stated that “if by drunkenness or the heat of wine drunkards commit any bad action, they are not to be pardoned, but punished for the crime and in addition for the drunkenness at the judge’s discretion.””
However, it was not much enforced. “Someone found drunk on the street at night might be incarcerated—particularly if it was a woman—but for being out at night rather than for drunkenness. Thus, an inspector who had come across a person “sleeping on the street dead drunk [mort ivre]” at midnight arrested not only the drunk but also two friends who were trying to get him home.”
The edict was not reissued in the eighteenth, or even probably the seventeenth, century. “If drunkenness was truly a scourge after the sixteenth century, the government did not consider it serious enough to necessitate renewing the law.”
Wine, as refreshment and food, was a legitimate end in itself. Drinking, however, played a powerful symbolic role; those who drank together were friends; refusing a drink was an insult.
“Parliaments of the People”: The Political Culture of Cafés in the Early Third Republic
Susanna Barrows looks at the role of cafés from the “coup de seize mai” to the following elections, when the banished republicans won.
The Tavern and Politics in the German Labor Movement, c. 1870-1914
James S. Roberts notes that the tavern was a “vital social center” for the working class in turn of the century Germany.
“The term tavern encompasses many different kinds of drinking establishments. The provision of food and drink was often all they had in common.”
“As a vital social center, the tavern was a natural place for workingmen to discuss their aspirations and grievances, both personal and political. Beyond the reach of social superiors, they could develop their ideas unmolested.”
Decay from Within: The Inevitable Doom of the American Saloon
Madelon Powers notes that it was the existing decline of the saloon that may have made prohibition possible.
“The centrality of the saloon in working-class life from 1870 to 1920 has already been well documented and need only be summarized here. Like taverns throughout history, the primary function of the saloon was to offer the basic amenities of home in a public place. Drink, food, shelter, and companionship have ever been the stock-in-trade of the tavern. Beyond this, the American saloon proved eminently capable of serving its customers’ broader needs during the nation’s chaotic industrial phase. Backed by influential liquor interests and allied with well-connected machine politicians, the saloon was able to offer the emerging working class a wide array of facilities, services, and contacts often available nowhere else. In time it also became a principal arena for all manner of working-class movements, including labor organization, political action, and immigrant assistance. This is not to ignore the many detrimental effects that the saloon and its wares had on the laboring population. Despite its faults and excesses, however, the saloon was able to earn considerable customer loyalty by serving as both shelter and staging ground for its vast working-class clientele.”
“There were always a number of onetime or occasional patrons who wandered in, but most saloons were kept in business by a steady clientele of perhaps fifty to sixty regulars.”
Boys were put to work at a “tender age” and “quickly introduced to the pattern of factory work and saloon play that the older workers followed…. By the early twentieth century, however, better enforcement of child labor laws and school attendance regulations had begun to interrupt the easy flow of youth into saloons. A significant increase in the number of boys’ clubs and organizations also assisted in diverting the flow. As Raymond Calkins observed in 1902,
The importance of providing good clubs and other means of recreation for boys and girls has been appreciated of late years, and no branch of social reform has received more attention…. The immediate necessity, then, is to get hold of the child, and in early years create such interests and ideals that the future man and woman cannot be drawn into the lower life of which the saloon is often the exponent.
‘By the 1910s the proliferation of other amusements such as movie theaters and baseball parks was beginning to siphon off a share of fun-seeking youth. It is important to note, moreover, that schools, community organizations, and competing forms of amusement all introduced boys to activities not ordinarily carried on in saloons, including opportunities for social encounters with girls. Thus, there were an increasing number of points in a boy’s life in which alternatives to the saloon presented themselves. To be sure, boys continued to be attracted to the all-male milieu of the saloon, and many of them would become regulars as soon as they were old enough. No longer, however, was the saloon the only game in town, nor even necessarily the most exciting.”
Also, saloons had flourished in a time of high immigration—which kept the ratio of men to women very high; as the ratio stabilized, more men married and they married earlier, reducing “that proportion of the male population for whom saloon going was virtually the only alternative to social isolation” and leaner times for the establishments that catered to the “bachelor brotherhood”.
Even then, though, when a married man wanted the company of other men, the saloon was the only place to go. “The crowded tenement flats where most married men lived with their families were neither comfortable nor practicable for home entertaining.”
Upgraded building codes, sanitary regulations (no more tossing garbage into the streets), and zoning restrictions changed this. “Henceforth there would be a formidable new competitor on the block: the livable home.”
A more mobile populace took away the steady clientele as well. Especially with the influx of immigrants of new origin: the Irish move out when the Italians come in, who move out when the Mexicans come in.
The Unions moved out of the saloons, and “since unions tended to attract those workers most committed to organization and unified action, they may well have wooed away the very men who might otherwise have mounted a more spirited defense of the saloon in the face of Prohibition.”
Student Drinking in the Third Reich: Academic Tradition and the Nazi Revolution
Geoffrey J. Giles notes that some Nazis believed that since people belonged to the state they had no right to damage their bodies.
“Students have been associated with alcoholic excesses since the earliest days of universities.”
Many of their games involved beer, such as the ‘pope’s game’ in which “students sat in a circle and were required to drain a whole glass of beer every time a spinning stick came to a stop pointing at their place. Each draught allowed the drinker to advance in rank from soldier or private up through all the ranks of the military and then on through the ranks of the nobility—baron, count, prince, and finally king and emperor. The rank above emperor on the social scale was deemed, with a touch of student humor, to be that of student. If a player succeeded in advancing further to the rank of cardinal, he might eventually be crowned pope…. the “pope’ was required to sit on a chair, placed on the table, and drink a further twelve mugs of beer during the singing of the twelve verses of the traditional song for the occasion….with a large sheet thrown over him, under which the assembled company would furiously puff smoke from their pipes in an effort to choke him.”
“A particularly heavy drinker might be given a mock honorary doctorate by his fraternity brothers with appropriate academic ceremony and become a doctor cerevisiae et vini (doctor of beer and wine), which entitled him to include the letters D.C. after his name, usually followed by N.e.B.—nunc est bibendum (now is the time to drink).” These traditions continued up to the First World War.
“Hitler’s personal distaste for alcohol is well known, although he was not a total abstainer. A phobia against alcohol was not one of his more rabid fanaticisms. After all, the party was founded in a bar, and beer halls played a vital part as meeting places in the growth of the Nazi movement. Hitler’s position on the matter was more an attempt to exude an aura of asceticism (just as he also let it be known that he was a vegetarian and a nonsmoker) and demonstrate the strength of his will to the man in the street. Several other leaders considered it proper or expedient to emulate him. Such a public face came easily to Heinrich Himmler, who in his own craving for status had joined a prestigious drinking fraternity as a student but had successfully petitioned for exemption from the drinking bouts because of his sensitive stomach.
‘Within the Nazi party heavy drinking does not seem to have been a particular issue before Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany in January 1933. The Great Depression and the financial sacrifices demanded of the party members and storm troopers left them with little beer money. After the seizure of power, however, the Nazi rank and file insisted on the spoils of victory and went on what amounted to an eighteen-month binge, which ended only with the murder of SA leader Ernst Röhm in June 1934.”
“The 1933 party rally at Nuremberg, at the end of Hitler’s first summer as chancellor, deteriorated into a veritable orgy of celebration for many Nazis. The orders for participants at the Nuremberg rally the following year emphasized that “one thing holds true above all else for this occasion: a National Socialist does not get drunk.”
“Alcoholic excesses were only rarely used by the party as an excuse to rid itself of a burdensome member. The national leader of the German Students’ Union, Andreas Feickert, was suspended from his office in February 1936 ostensibly because of a prosecution for drunk driving (by all accounts a particular concern of the party), “ for political reasons.
“The Nazi leader in charge of German physicians, Gerhard Wagner, did lead a campaign against alcoholic excess (while admitting that he himself liked his glass of wine or beer). He viewed the question, however, exclusively in racial terms. People’s bodies did not primarily belong to them but to the state, and alcohol abuse both reduced national productivity and damaged the racial stock (he was especially concerned about the effects on pregnant women, though he believed smoking to be even more serious).”
Politics, Ideology, and Power
Alcohol regulation, social reform, and temperance movements each had their different successes and failures.
Against the Flowing Tide: Whiskey and Temperance in the Making of Modern Ireland
George Bretherton follows the growth of temperance in Ireland, both among protestants and Catholics.
“For some fifty years beginning in the 1780s a growing number of anxious people in Ireland worried publicly and loudly about the ever-increasing rise in Irish whiskey production and consumption…. Little enough was done about this situation until 1829, when a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Dr. Joseph Penny, returned to his native Ulster with news of that great new American invention, temperance.”
In a few months the Presbyterian clergy established the Ulster Temperance Society, centered in Belfast, and by the end of the year, the Hibernian Temperance Society, a national body, in Dublin.
This was the same year as the “Catholic Emancipation”, when the British government allowed Catholics to sit in Parliament, and in ten years 35 Catholics became members of the House of Commons.
At first, the temperance movement was a movement of aristocratic landlords for the temperance of the commoner; later, it became a teetotal movement led by radicals. Finally, Father Mathew, a Catholic priest, created a great “millenarian movement”, getting huge numbers to pledge “again and again.”
“What remained was several significant results and an important legacy. The temperance movement did realize to an appreciable extent its basic purpose—not, of course, in turning Ireland into a nation of teetotalers, as Father Mathew would have liked, but in helping to create an atmosphere in which moderate, as opposed to excessive drinking, became the norm. Though Ireland still bears the stigma of a stereotype that harks back to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, many people from that time would find the relative sobriety of post-Mathewite Ireland remarkable.”
Drunks, Brewers, and Chiefs: Alcohol Regulation in Colonial Kenya, 1900-1939
Charles H. Ambler writes about the rise of prohibition in colonial Kenya; as is often the case, prohibition was meant to keep other races from partaking of recreational drugs.
“From the earliest years of the colonial intrusion in the central region of Kenya British officers complained repeatedly and vehemently of the dangers posed by endemic drunkenness in the rural districts under their authority….Initially the British responded to this perceived threat simply by attempting to suppress the production, sale, and consumption of local beer in certain areas and to particular segments of the population.”
Kenyan drinking was seasonal: only when the labor could be diverted, and the sugar cane was available. But the advent of British colonial rule brought more efficient transportation, so that alcohol could be brought in; more efficient cane-crushing techniques, so that alcohol could be made with less labor; and refining techniques, allowing sugar to be kept throughout the year—and sugar, unlike sugar cane, didn’t have to be hand-crushed, thus reducing labor further.
Drinking previously had been limited to elders: men with children of circumcision age. Colonial officials claimed to see a huge rise in drinking, and banned manufacture and sale of “native intoxicating liquors” in 1907. The 1890 Act of Brussels “forbade the export of spirits to East Africa.” However, “substantial amounts of liquor were imported to fill the demands of the growing population of white settlers.” In 1916, they shifted direction and limited “access to the essential raw material of brewing—sugar.” They also completely banned “the operation of crushing mills outright.”
“The “epidemic of drunkenness” in Central Kenya apparently had as much to do with official insecurities and frustrations as with actual alcohol abuse. The administration regarded control of drinking as a major task of its local agents, but actual descriptions of increasing alcohol consumption, though frequently alarmist, appear only irregularly in colonial records. Examined as a body, these reports are both inconsistent and vague. Indeed, the striking absence of specific evidence of disruptive drunken behavior suggests that the rpeoccupations of particular administrators lay behind many of the sensational claims of excessive drinking. Oral records contain a similar lack of information on alcohol use, but what there is places drinking squarely within the context of socially condoned activities. The fact that testimonies have little to say about drinking, or about the seemingly harsh regulations imposed to control it, suggests that these were not issues that pressed heavily on people’s lives.”
“Given the clear correlation between reports of rising drunkenness and periods of social unrest, it seems fair to assume that colonial administrators often sought to explain away more complex phenomena with charges of alcohol abuse.
‘…most [colonial administrators] carried with them stereotypical and highly simplistic preconceptions of African mentality and behavior. Common among these ideas was the notion that Africans could not hold their liquor.”
“There was considerable irony in this concern for African drunkenness since beginning at this time a segment of the white population of Kenya was earning a well-deserved reputation for flamboyant drug and alcohol abuse.
‘Of course, drinking among whites did not appear to interfere with the preservation of order. The assumption among Europeans was that alcohol dissolved whatever rationality Africans possessed; hence Africans who had been drinking could be expected to be rude, insolent, and even rebellious.”
‘Not surprisingly, the particular target of alcohol prohibitions was young males of the warrior age. Across central Kenya the warrior class enjoyed a kind of privileged existence. Its carefully cultivated dress and demeanor suggested narcissism, self-confidence, and even arrogance—qualities that were little valued at district headquarters. Youths devoted themselves especially to dancing; in the words of one elder, “the task of the mwanake [youth or warrior] was first to be a fighter and next to dance.” They spent long hours preparing their clothing, hair, and ornaments and practicing for communal dances that could go on for days.”
“Beginning as early as 1910 the administration restricted participation in dances and in some cases banned them outright….the basic objective of the administration in its attempts to restrict dancing—and drinking—was the domestication of the warrior class…. By 1919 the authorities in Fort Hall District were even considering forbidding youths to wear traditional warrior headdresses.”
“Administrative records frequently describe as drunkards those chiefs who were regarded as unprogressive. This view was generally shared by the considerable number of central Kenyans—mostly young men—who became Christians during this period. As one man recalled, “I left all traditional ways of life and decided to join the Christians. Before, I had been drinking beer and dancing and other bad things.”… To both traditionalists and Christians, the term drinker became a shorthand label for those who resisted conversion to Christianity.”
Capitalism, Religion, and Reform: The Social History of Temperance in Harvey, Illinois
Ray Hutchison writes about the “conflicts between divergent subcultures in American society” that would eventually result in prohibition. Temperance communities may have been about keeping alcohol out, or they may have been about keeping Eastern Europeans out.
“The rise and fall of the temperance movement in the United States during the nineteenth century has gained increased attention since Joseph Gusfield’s (1963) interpretation of temperance as a response “to the conflicts between divergent subcultures in American society.” As a mass social movement temperance had its greatest impact before the Civil War. Afterward emphasis shifted from voluntary abstinence to the forced prohibition of alcohol products, and temperance became fused with the evangelical movement, woman suffrage, and labor issues.”
Temperance towns—planned, financed, and settled by those of the “temperance life-style” were established in the last quarter of the 19th century. Harvey, Illinois was one, “some twenty miles south of the Chicago Loop founded by Turlington Harvey, a wealthy Chicago businessman.”
“Although many early suburbs passed ordinances outlawing saloons in the 1890s (see Duis 1983), the temperance towns were entirely new settlements planned, financed, and populated by followers of the temperance movement. Prohibition Park, New York, began as a summer colony for temperance followers in Manhattan and was financed by New York businessmen; Vineland, New Jersey, was founded by Charles Landis, a land developer from Philadelphia; Harriman, Tennessee, was a land development founded by General Clinton B. Fisk, the Prohibition party presidential candidate in 1888 (Furnas 1965, 324-326). Palo Alto, California, was a temperance town begun by Mrs. Leland Stanford; Demorest, Georgia, was advertised in the Union Signal as a “city of refuge” from the problems of urban life. Harvey, Illinois, by contrast, was a planned industrial community.”
Other “communitarian” towns were also built, to implement “a total vision of an alternative reality” (Dennis Hardy, 1979) along religious and social theory lines. Hundreds of such settlements appeared across the country; “Although similar to communitarianism in its response to the problems of industrialization and the need of social reform, the temperance vision was narrower in practice. Its goal was to promote temperance values within the contours of the existing society and economic arrangements. In this sense the temperance town is more directly related to model company towns in England and the United States.”
Members of the Harvey Land Association (owners of Harvey) were Turlington Harvey (president), F.H. Revel (publisher of religious books and periodicals; vice president), Dwight L. Moody (an original investor, and on the board of directors), bankers, businessmen, and “at least one person” from “the board of directors of the Pullman Corporation.” I.e., “temperance industrialists”. (Brian Harrison, 1971) According to Graham Taylor (on corporate and company towns, 1915):
Some company officials act on the belief that by removing workingmen from a city it is possible to get them away from the influences which foment discontent and labor disturbances.
Labor disturbances: in the late 1870s, such had required federal troops to put down, in Chicago, Saint Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and other industrial cities. “Thus, temperance and industry were fused and emerged as a popular ideology for dealing with the social problems of the day.”
From the original deeds to residential property:
If the purchaser uses any part of the property for the purpose of permitting any intoxicating drink to be manufactured, sold or given away upon said premises, or permits gambling to be carried on therein, or creates any house or other place of lewd and immoral practice thereupon, he, his heirs, executors, administrators and his assigns shall be divested of the entire estate and it shall revert to the party of the first part.
In the March 5 issue of the Union Signal (a Women’s Christian Temperance Union weekly journal), Harvey was advertised as “Harvey, Illinois, The Magic City”.
“The fourteen city blocks located south of the downtown area sold out within ninety days after they were offered in 1891.”
Unlike places such as the Pullman Corporation town, the Harvey Land Association “actively promoted home ownership for the working class.”
Social Composition: 24% native-born midwesterners; 21% native-born from other states; 43% foreign-born from western European countries. “These figures suggest a population base of persons of Anglo and Western European heritage similar to that of the American population of the period.” (Figures: 1890 to 1900).
“The decade from 1890 to 1900 was marked by the immigration of alrge numbers of Eastern European families to the United States.” By 1900 over 60,000 Poles, 27,000 Italians, 36,000 Czechs and Slovaks had immigrated to Chicago; in total more than 20% of Chicago in 1900 was of Eastern European stock. Harvey, however, “contained few Eastern Europeans in 1900…. Although Eastern Europeans would move to Harvey in the early 1900s, they were not a part of community life in the early years.”
There were blacks in Harvey from early on, however, possibly because “the temperance movement had been associated with the abolition movement” before the Civil War.
“In both ethnic and class composition the temperance community in Harvey was similar to that of the national movement.”
One bonus was that the “economic elites” of Harvey: the land association, industrial owners, etc., didn’t actually live in Harvey. Of “those persons exercising direct control over the dominant economic interests” of Harvey, only 10 lived in Harvey, and thus were eligible to serve politically. Six did so; “In the early years more than half of the city council members were workingmen from the community.“
In 1893 an amusement hall and saloon opened (155th and Halsted) just east of the land association property. Lucy Page Gaston led the effort to annex this property into Harvey, “thus effectively closing the saloon”, but was defeated. The 1895 mayoral election “developed into a battle over prohibition.” Temperance won, electing Jonathan Mathews to two one-year terms, but he refused to run again in 1897. In May 1897, Clark W. Ranger became new mayor, and was “favorable to saloon interests”. In July an ordinance legalizing liquor sales came before the city council; it tied 8-8, and Ranger cast the tie-breaker in favor of allowing liquor licenses. A public referendum was held in September, and “temperance was reinstated by a small majority.”
“Efforts to protect the temperance clause in the original Harvey property deeds was finally declared unconstitutional in the Cook County courts” sometime in the early or later 1900s.
Lucy Page Gaston was later the founder of the Anti-Cigarette League, and is “said to have coined the term coffin nail”.
While it grew at a large rate in 1892 and 1893, the depression in 1894 hurt Harvey a lot. “References to Harvey as a temperance community disappear by 1900…. There is little in the town today to indicate the unique circumstances surrounding its founding.”
Greely, Colorado, was another temperance town.
Lillian Shiman (1988, 161-169, Crusade against Drink in Victorian England) describes “Birstal, a small town in Yorkshire” as a “total temperance community”.
Early motto of the WTCU: “For God and Home and Native Land”
Women and Temperance in International Perspective: The World’s WTCU, 1880s-1920s
Ian Tyrrell’s history of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union indicates that they used fear of foreigners—or tried to—to build their organization into an international force.
At the 1885 national convention of the American WCTU (celebrating one hundred years since Benjamin Rush’s Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors) Frances Willard, national president, said that “the “second temperance century” would witness the export of temperance reform around the globe, spearheaded by her recently created World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.”
She had suggested a World’s WCTU in 1883; in late 1884 the “first world missionary”, Mary Clement Leavitt, left from San Francisco on an eight-year tour of “all continents.” In 1891 a world convention assembled and approved the constitution. “The membership was declared to be a half a million by 1895 and more than one million in the 1920s, though records of dues paid yield lower figures. In 1910 there were 435,000 dues-paying members, of whom almost 46 percent were non-American. By 1927 the organization had 766,225 members, but proportionately the American contribution had risen more rapidly in the 1920s as part of the drive to preserve national prohibition. (Just under 43 percent of members were non-Americans in 1928.)”
The World’s WCTU served as “a transmitter of information on the woman suffrage question.” The examples of Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho were used to justy suffrage in Australian colonies; the granting of suffrage in New Zealand in 1893 and South Australia in 1894 became an example that the American WCTU could use.
Willard claimed to have “been “converted” to internationalism “overnight” by exposure to the horrors of the opium dens of San Francisco.”
“The strategy adopted to deal with these problems had Britain as its centerpiece. Since Britain was the leading colonial power, the reform of drinking habits there would, it was hoped, entail an automatic international influence. Willard stressed “the momentous value of strengthening the white-ribbon movement in the central country of the English-speaking race, with its mightly outrach of power to its great colonies.” Underlying this assessment was the worldview of social Darwinism: the Anglo-Saxon race was destined to lead the world to a higher stage of evolution and eventually to world federalism. Women had a crucial role in strengthening the Anglo-Saxon race for this moral struggle through the universal application of their maternal morality.”
“If the WCTU was to become a worldwide organization, Willard argued, it would have to attack those drugs of concern in each area of the globe.” She said:
One of the best results to be obtained… will, perhaps, be this: That all stimulants and narcotics will finally be included in our pledge, as alike the enemies of that sacred instrument of thought, the human brain.
“Just as opium was considered crucial to non-Western temperance mobilization, so too was the purity question raised to an almost equal importance for the recruitment of temperance women in Europe. The 1886 “plan of proposed work” for the World’s WCTU coupled temperance and purity, probably because the document had been drafted in the context of a British presence at the American WCTU convention in that year. The purity question was at the time of much greater importance in Britain than temperance as a women’s issue.”
“Spasmodically in the 1880s, and in hysterical form by 1900, fears developed of an influx of foreign white slaves and of native-born girls falling victim to foreign pimps. There was also the issue of how to deal with the prostitution question in the United States and the relevance of European experience to those debates. Mark Connelly has shown that the issue of regulation versus abolition of prostitution continued to haunt purity debates in the United States even though regulation ceased after the 1870 Saint Louis experiment. These debates were conducted with close reference to the existence of regulatory systems in several European nations. The regulationist controversy was not settled in an intellectual sense until 1914, with the publication of Abraham Flexner’s Prostitution in Europe. Thus, right up to World War I it was important for supporters of Willard’s “white life for two” to have knowledge of international aspects of prostitution reform and to campaign in Europe, India, and East Asia if purity forces in the United States were to remain dominant.
‘Modern historians depict the social purity campaigns of the nineteenth century as repressive attempts to force a middle-class morality on working people. Purity crusaders denied the sexuality of women, accepted male dominance, and treated woman prostitutes in a misleading and damaging way as victims. These charges contain a large degree of truth; but the international campaign of the WCTU also linked antiprostitution reform with related work emphasizing the cross-cultural subordination of women and proposed through purity a form of women’s emancipation. The WCTU noted that prostitution placed restrictions on women that were not equally applied to men who engaged in sexual “indulgence”and linked this analysis to practices in non-Western societies that illustrated the inferior legal and cultural status of women. These included child marriage and the treatment of widows in India, the geisha system in Japan, polygamy in a variety of countries, the veil in the Arab world, and foot binding in China.”
“The World’s WCTU tried to shape the policies of Western governments on the export of liquor to colonial areas by providng some of the “facts” on which temperance assessments of imperial policies were based…. WCTU workers attended international conferences that discussed this question, including the Universal Races Congress of 1911…”
“The missionary campaigns [of the WCTU] were expressions of this mentality of service to others, the Anglo-Saxon race, and “humanity” rather than strategies for the advancement of women’s interests alone.”
The Inebriate, the Expert, and the State
Once we bring state power into temperance, it becomes something wholly different and dangerous.
Socialism, Alcoholism, and the Russian Working Classes before 1917
George E. Snow, despite mentioning it in the opening paragraphs, has no actual discussion of anti-Semitism as it related to Russian temperance.
“The struggle against alcoholism is no more than an expedient, the breaking of a single link in the chain of the political oppression and capitalist exploitation of the working class.”
V.G. Chirkin, remarks to the First All-Russian Temperance Congress, December 31, 1909
“One of the most compelling and interesting European reform movements in the period before 1917 was the antialcohol or temperance cause. Yet although the movement in Russia was similar in many respects to the wider European one, at the same time there were elements in it that were wholly lacking in the European—anti-Semitism, state sponsorship, and, since the drink trade and the revenues from it were controlled by the state, an unmatched degree of politicization. It is precisely this last aspect that made the question of socialism and temperance in Russia most pointed.”
“…the limits of discourse on the relationship between socialism and temperance were established by the appearance in 1846 of Friedrich Engels’s Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Drawing on the so-called environmentalist critique put forward as early as the 1830s by the British socialists, Engels established a direct causal relationship between alcoholism and industrial capital. Given the pollution, crowding, poor ventilation, and bad food with which the working class had to contend, he concluded that one of the few pleasures remaining to its members was alcohol abuse…. In short, alcoholism was an epiphenomenon that would end when the social order based on capitalist exploitation ended, and neither Marx’s contradictory views nor the antitemperance positions of the German Social Democrats managed to erode this view.”
Public Health, Public Morals, and Public Order: Social Science and Liquor Control in Massachusetts, 1880-1916
Thomas F. Babor and Barbara G. Rosenkrantz note some of the battling studies in the nineteenth century; as usual there was a concentration on what I call the life preserver phenomenon: studies that focus on drownings will show that there is a much higher percentage of life preservers either nearby or in possession of the deceased.
Focus: the contributions made by social researchers to the public debate surrounding alcoholic beverage control legislation in Massachussetts before national prohibition.
“The commonwealth was also a focal point for temperance reformers, second only to Maine in enacting statewide prohibitory legislation (1852) and the first state to experiment with the local option as an alternative approach to alcoholic-beverage control (1881).”
The sponsors of social studies can be classified into three groups: the alcoholic beverage industry, “represented here by investigations sponsored by the United States Brewers’ Association”, founded in 1860, and “the most powerful interest group in the nation concerned with the protection of the alcoholic beverage industry.” Mostly, they produced a yearbook with reviews of alcohol-related scientific literature, “both popular and scientific.” In “exceptional cases” they also commissioned original studies.
Second, “persons and groups affiliated with academic institutions”. The “Committee of Fifty” was such a group, concentrating on the alcohol problem.
Third: “organizations or institutions interested in the alcohol problem for reasons related to public policy.” Such as the Massachusetts state legislature.
Investigations covered three general areas: “social epidemiology, that is, the distribution and determinants of alcohol-related poverty, crime, and mental disorder; the effectiveness of alcohol control policies and prevention measures; and legal management and medical treatment of the public inebriate.”
Gallus Thomann’s Real and Imaginary Effects of Intemperance, published in 1884 under the aegis of the Brewers’ Association. Concluded that “on the average, intemperance is the cause of insanity in seven cases out of one hundred.”
Wadlin’s 1895 Report of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, published in 1896, found that the “3,230 paupers receiving public support shows “poverty to be concentrated among males (81.5 percent) and the foreign-born (68.5 percent). Of the 1,019 American citizens born paupers, only 29.9 percent had both parents born in the United States. Thus, 90.6 percent of all paupers were first- or second-generation immigrants. Of the foreign-born paupers, 58.3 percent of the men and 42.3 percent of the women were Irish.” The survey of drinking habits revealed that 19.7% of adult men and 6.6% of adult women were “excessive drinkers”, i.e., “common drunkards”. The Irish “had the highest proportion of excessive drinkers.” Looking at asylums, “Native-born patients were found to have a lower proportion of insanity “due to the use of intoxicating liuqors” (33.6 percent of men, 9.1 percent of women) than naturalized and alien patients (44.3 percent of men, 15.2 percent of women).”
John Koren, of the Committee of Fifty, did A Study of the Economic Aspects of the Liquor Problem, and found that “Of the more than sixteen hundred Massachusetts cases reviewed, 37.5 percent of the male paupers and 10.0 percent of the female paupers were judged to have their poverty caused directly by intemperance, and 7.7 percent of the men and 33.2 percent of the women were found to have their condition caused indirectly by the intemperance of their parents or spouses.”
Inebriate Reformatories in Scotland: An Institutional History
Patrick M. McLaughlin’s study did not provide anything for my cartoon history, so all I am left with is this tantalizing quote.
“The aim of the study is not merely to reconstruct something of the reality of life in these institutions but also to locate and explain the institutions in terms of the wider social and political context.”
Alcohol and the State in Nazi Germany, 1933-1945
Hermann Fahrenkrug’s shows that, to the Nazi leadership, it was the civic duty of every German to maintain good health in order to support state power.
Germany needs the strength of every single man for the development of its national and economic freedom. Therefore, no German has the right to impair his strength through alcohol abuse. Such action is detrimental not only to himself, but to his family, and above all, to his people.
Heinrich Himmler, SS leader and chief of the German Police, 1938
“For my sources I have selected National Socialist writings on the problem of alcohol from the archives of the Prussian State Library in Berlin and the Catholic Charity Library in Freiburg.”
The leading Nazi journal on alcohol problems was titled The Poisons of Pleasure.
“Nazi authors incessantly repeated the theme of social damages resulting from alcohol abuse. In particular, “disruption of domestic happiness through the influence of alcohol and crime, traffic accidents and alcohol, and a weakening of work and productive ability” were, together with the disruption of public order, moral decline, and economic loss, problems conceptualized on an explicitly social level.”
“In the beginning phase only the anticapitalist workers’ wing of the National Socialist party emphasized the profit seeking of alcohol capital as the real problem in the alcohol question. This emphasis proceeded in connection especially with so-called Jewish alcohol capital, which, according to a paranoid conspiracy theory, was progressing with its strategy of injuring the German race through alcohol poison.”
“Alcohol-related traffic offenses were a special interest of the Nazis from the very beginning, and the criminalization of such acts against society brought about the introduction of Widmark’s blood analysis test to the entire nation in 1938.”
“The showpiece of Nazi legislation for the long-term radical solution to the genetic foundation of the alcohol problem was the “Law for the Prevention of Descendants affected by Hereditary Disorders” of 1933. With this law “grave alcoholism” became a hereditary condition alongside such classic diseases as hereditary mental deficiency, schizophrenia, insanity, hereditary blindness and deafness, and serious bodily deformity. For these diseases, steriliazation of the affected person was urged.”
P. 322: “rough estimate” of twenty thousand to thirty thousand inebriates sterilized; this was only 5-10 percent of the “approximately” 300,000 diagnosed alcoholics. They “came particularly from the lower class.”
The “Social Incapability Law: “Little is known about the implementation, execution, and response to this law. Although the organized alcohol opponents at this time expressed approval of the law (except Catholics, who were against sterilization on religious grounds), the “professional ban” on would-be parents was rather discomforting for many Germans. Like the search for pure Aryan genealogy, it now became necessary to search one’s ancestry for hereditary diseases, inferiorities, and grave alcoholism. And who could be certain that in the chain of generations all relatives twice removed would prove negative?”
“The classic bourgeois-liberal legal tradition, which protected the alcohol business against state intervention, lacked “the ethics of the total state of National Socialist character; it bypasses the extraordinary danger of alcohol for the race and nation in a liberal overvaluation of the individual.”
In 1939, a “new Central Reich Office against Alcohol and Tobacco Dangers was created in Berlin:
The Reich Office is cooperating with all possible agencies of party and state, expertly advising them and supporting them in their efforts to struggle against the dangers of pleasure drugs and narcotics. The Reich Office is working on all aspects of the pleasure drug problem as far as all connected questions of prevention, public assistance, and damages are concerened. In addition, the Reich Office is conducting scientific research in all aspects of the field.
The president of the reich health office said:
Our future will be a hard struggle for the existence of the German people. Our nation can only be developed if we protect the German people, our most valuable asset, through responsible health leadership and legislation, from bodily and mental damage. The healthy man alone is the source of every national achievement, and with that also of national power. This health leadership would therefore be a duty to our people.
Later, the reich minister of health & leader of the Reich Office against Alcohol and Tobacco Dangers, Conti, said in 1939:
Next to the service duty of the soldiers of our Wehrmacht stands the civil service duty of every German. A part of this civil service is health duty. Every German man and woman has to live healthfully and avoid anything that can endanger or damage health. The struggle against alcohol and tobacco dangers is thereby not only an urgent task of health leadership and administration; it also serves the acquisition and the strengthening of German defense power…. You also help through your work to protect and strengthen the German family where it is threatened by drug use, and thereby you raise the inner resistance of our people.
“Under extreme war conditions modern alcohol control showed its true face… A giant machinery was set up…. In the context of this project the handling of the alcohol question was reclassified from the area of hereditary diseases to the criminal political program of the extermination of “socially extraneous unfit individuals [antisocials].”
“The racist theoretician Max von Gruber once labeled the core of the alcohol question, “Alcohol harms too many, but kills too few.””
Perspectives on Drinking and Social History
Despite its obvious silliness, prohibition has at times been, and continues to be, a popular response to recreational drug use. Why, and how?
From Fasting to Abstinence: The Origins of the American Temperance Movement
Joel Bernard writes about the “cranky fad” of enforced temperance: how it came to be so popular. Racism, of course, figured strongly.
“Throughout most of the twentieth century the temperance movement has had the reputation of a cranky fad. But it was without question the most popular American mass movement of the nineteenth century, enlisting a vareity of eminent and sensible men and women in a long-enduring national crusade.”
Discusses “how did awareness of the particular sin of intemperate drinking gain privileged status in America during the nineteenth century, dominating all other sins? Second, how did the intellectual rationale and appropriate ritual for condemning the sin of intemperate drinking in fasting and prayer evolve into the new rationales and rituals of the temperance movement? If days of fasting and prayer were appropriate responses to social disorder in an era when various sins (intemperance among others) were considered causes for the wrath of God, how did intemperance itself become the object of a concern so compelling that it enlisted hundreds of thousands in specific temeprance organizations separate from churches?”
“Most historians of nineteenth-century temperance assert that the problem of drinking got worse. [Rorabauch, Alcoholic Republic; Clark, Deliver Us from Evil. For a different view, see Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 28.] Although there is no doubt that the amount of alcohol consumed in early nineteenth-century America was high, there is also much evidence that American drinking had always been high, was perceived as a chronic problem well before the temperance movement, and, within certain limits, is perceived as such today.”
“The gravity of any social problem is a matter of relative judgment that depends on men and women’s brief experience of the past. A change in the amount of drinking done in America during the nineteenth century was indeed a compelling motive in the founding of the movement. But the fundamental cause of the movement was a change in perception. The mentality that sought divine causes for afflictive events and sought communal responses in churches and religious rituals evolved into a mentality that sought naturalistic explanations for the same events—and ultimately into one that today seeks economic or psychological determinants of the same phenomena. Just as the logic of one era dictated fast days, so that of another era indicated temperance movements, and that of our own creates helping professions to staff social outreach programs.”
“Increasingly justifications for the suppression of intemperance involved recasting as “reasonable,” or even “scientific,” attitudes toward sin that had formerly been justified with reference to the authority of the Bible, the canons of the church, and the secular laws derived from them.”
“By 1821 the anonymous author of a laudatory article on the penitentiary system in the North American Review invoked conventional wisdom to remark that “the unrestricted manufacture and sale of ardent spirits is almost the sole cause of all the suffering, the poverty, and the crime to be found in this country.”
“As a quasi-religious ideology, temperance appealed to tens of thousands of men and women who also found in it the context for secular self-mastery. Ministers, faced with religious diversity and always preoccupied with the need to shore up virtue, initially sounded the call of moral suasion but were led back to politics by their zealous followers. Doctors still ignorant of germ theory but sensing the role of environmental factors in the etiology of disease stressed the value of abstinence to health. Employers looking to create a docile work force saw in temperance the means to instill labor discipline—and reassure themselves that abstinence guaranteed and justified their own success. Women, accorded a new status of moral superiority and familial authority by writers on domesticity, yet whose continuing inferior legal status was all the more anomalous in an egalitarian age, fixed on alcohol as the major source of marital and familial discord and found in temperance societies an outlet for their political energies. Nativists who disliked the Irish and German immigrants who were changing the complexion of American cities fixed on immigrants’ cultural propensity to drink whiskey or beer. Each group, and any person who had witnessed or experienced the tragedy that alcohol wreaked on family and friends, found in alcohol a special lens through which to view misery.”
The Paradox of Temperance: Blacks and the Alcohol Question in Nineteenth-Century America
Denise Herd writes about the “paradox” that the progressive temperance movement was also highly racist. The “negro problem” was was a “central issue” that prohibition was meant to solve.
“In the early nineteenth century the ideology concerning blacks and alcohol use was extremely ambiguous. On the one hand, there was a long-standing belief that drunkenness led to disorder and rebellion in the black population. Restrictions on blacks’ ability to use or trade in alcoholic beverages and to frequent taverns were incorporated into legal codes as part of the machinery of control to prevent slave uprisings and militancy. The sentiments that inspired antiliquor legislation for blacks are suggested by the colonial statutes of New Jersey, which forbade whites to sell or trade in rum with blacks.” In 1685 in West Jersey, it was illegal to sell or give rum, “or any manner of strong liquor” to Blacks or Indians, with a penalty of five pounds. Similar provisions were “standard in nearly all colonial governments.” However, after the American War of Independence, slavery was prohibited or “nearly abolished” in most of the north.
In the South, “slave codes became more restrictive, particularly with regard to prohibitions on alcohol.”
“Although liquor use by blacks on the plantation was regarded as a nuisance, the real focus of concern about blacks and alcohol centered in the towns and cities, in which attention fell on the “encouragement to theft, the breaking down of racial barriers, and the camaraderie between blacks and poor whites.””
“William Freehling points out that planters in the antebellum South remained convinced that “the use of intoxicating liquors” was an important cause “of every insurrectinary movement which has occured in the United States.”…. A New Orleans journalist vividly expressed this sentiment: the shops were “places of temptation to the lower classes, where intoxication can be cheaply purchased, where mobs and caucuses of our Slaves nightly assemble at their orgies, to inflame the brains with copious libations, and preach rebellions against their white masters.””
Talks about how slave leaders felt that liquor was used to “narcotize” the slave population, and that this mirrored the larger ambiguous images of alcohol as both “liberator and enslaver”.
Up to the mid-century, slaveholders were concerned about the effects of alcohol on blacks. “The focus of whites on black drunkenness was a means of both controlling the black population and locating the source of disruption outside of the institution of slavery (since they also argued that blacks benefited from slavery and were contented) in the inflammatory nature of liquor and the repressed primitive urges of blacks.”
“By the turn of the twentieth century the divergent concerns about black savagery, alcohol disinhibition and social disorder converged in the image of the drunken black beast. Prohibition was urged in order to protect the white populace, particularly females, from the drunken debauches of half-crazed black men. The “negro problem” became a central issue in liquor reform. Sensational newspaper articles were circulated condemning the liquor traffic as a stimulus for an alleged epidemic of sex crimes as well as the massive wave of lynchings, riots, and other forms of racial violence that swept across the South. For example, Collier’s ran an article entitled “Mr. Levy’s ‘Nigger Gin,’” about the cheap gin sold primarily in “negro dives,” which by its lewd packaging was believed to incite lurid sexual behavior in black men:
Obscene titles, obscene labels, advertise by suggestion, by double meanings, that these compounds contain a drug to stimulate the low passions which have made the race problem such a dreadful thing in the South…. The viciousness lies in the double meanings, clear to every man who knows the Southern negro, in the pictures of naked white women on the labels, in even greater obscenties.”
From Symbolic Exchange to Commodity Consumption: Anthropological Notes on Drinking as a Symbolic Practice
Marianna Adler’s portion “draws on historical accounts of drinking in British society in an effort to shed light on the symbolic nature of drinking in modern Western societies.”
Benevolent Repression: Popular Culture, Social Structure, and the Control of Drinking
Joseph Gusfield focuses on the repression of prohibition, and the perspective that allows it. What is this “personal liberty” that the opposition speaks of?
On his study wall, there is the slogan: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”
A social worker in Milwaukee said “This is not a fight against the Germans or the Poles. It is not a fight against the pleasures of the working class. All we want to do is lift the moral standards of the city. Give our working girls the liberty of a pure city, pure enjoyment, rather than this personal liberty the opposition speaks of.” This during attempted regulation of dance hall and liquor sale hours.
“The new industrial work force had to learn the disciplines of routine, punctuality, and persevereance while overcoming the traditional habits of spontaneity, indefiniteness, and the mix of work and play…. As Harrison remarks, the nineteenth-century Temperance debate in England was really an argument about how leisure was to be spent.”
“Men left home as much in search of a place to drink as of something to drink.”
“A description like the following would hardly be expected to gain general assent today as it did in nineteenth-century America: “The responsible young man was the one who knew that his obligations to his employer extended through his off-duty hours as well as through his working-day.” It is not that the ethic of work has disappeared in America, but belief in the moral significance of continuity between spheres of life, of being a person whose work and play are consistent, has become less dominant.”