Temperance Societies

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"What the Doctors Say About Beer," a publication from the National Temperance Society. Courtesy of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Library.

Temperance movements began in the late 1700s, initially as movements to encourage moderation in alcohol consumption. By the 1800s, temperance societies in America were promoting abstinence and working toward legislation aimed to curb drinking. The spread of the temperance movement was in response to high alcohol consumption during this period, especially by men, at a time when women had few legal rights and were dependent on the support provided by their husbands. 

One of the leading temperance societies in the US was the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU grew from the “Women’s Crusades” of the 1870s, where groups of women walked to saloons and drug stores where alcohol was sold, to sing and pray. The goal of these events was to decrease attendance at saloons and increase attendance at church. The WCTU furnished “temperance fountains” in some cities to encourage the drinking of water instead of spirits.