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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

TEMPERANCE - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

TEMPERANCE. Temperance reform in Cleveland--advocating abstinence from alcoholic beverages--illustrates the wide appeal and the diverse tactics of the national temperance movement from the 19th century until the passage of the PROHIBITION AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution in 1919. Reformers and conservatives, wealthy and working-class, Protestant and Catholic, women and men, young and old participated in temperance activities. Agitation began in the first decades of the 19th century, when improvements in distilling techniques, the unavailability of other beverages, and, perhaps, the need to ease the tensions created by rapid social change raised alcohol consumption to unprecedented heights. The city's first recorded groups were the CUYAHOGA COUNTY TEMPERANCE SOCIETY, formed in 1830 and later renamed the Cuyahoga County Total Abstinence Society, and the CLEVELAND CITY TEMPERANCE SOCIETY, founded in 1836. Patterned after the first national temperance organization, the American Temperance Society, both preached total abstinence from alcohol. These reformers blamed poverty and immorality on drinking and argued that the solution lay in moral pressure on individuals and political pressure on legislators for regulation.

Cleveland's first benevolent society, the WESTERN SEAMEN'S FRIEND SOCIETY, founded the MARINE TOTAL ABSTINENCE SOCIETY in 1840, which survived almost 2 decades. It served the men who sailed Lake Erie and the new canals and attempted to convince these workingmen, along with well-to-do founders, to pledge abstinence from alcohol. In the 1840s, local and national temperance reform was swept up in the Washingtonian movement, which relied upon revivalistic lectures, plays, and literature to achieve the spiritual reclamation of drinkers. Established groups expanded their memberships and several new groups formed, such as the Young Men's Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society and the MARTHA WASHINGTON AND DORCAS SOCIETY.

The Washingtonian movement, which sustained its energies only through the 1840s, broadened the base for Cleveland's next significant temperance groups, the SONS OF TEMPERANCE and the Independent Order of Good Templars. The national Sons of Temperance was formed in 1843, and the Templars in 1851. Both were fraternal orders with secret rituals and degrees and ranks of membership. By 1848 the Sons had 3 divisions in Cleveland, and a decade later, the Templars had several lodges. Both groups also advocated political action to end the liquor menace. In 1852-53 Cleveland groups allied to support a third-party gubernatorial candidate who endorsed the total prohibition of the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. The candidate lost, but prohibition through the passage of such a "Marine Law" became an important goal and independent political activity an attractive strategy.


Catholic temperance groups also flourished in the 1840s and 1850s in urban areas. The first of many local Catholic temperance groups, the Fr. Mathew Mutual Benevolent & Total Abstinence Society (see FATHER MATHEW TOTAL ABSTINENCE SOCIETY), grew out of the Cleveland visit of Irish priest Fr. Theobald Mathew in Aug. 1851. The Civil War drew attention from reform, but at war's end temperance advocates pushed forward with political tactics. In 1869, at the meeting of the Ohio State Temperance Alliance, a small group based in Cleveland's vigorous temperance movement endorsed the formation of a third political party and in Mar. 1869 nominated a slate of prohibition candidates for city office. By September the national PROHIBITION PARTY had formed. It held two presidential nominating conventions in Cleveland (1876, 1880). The party continued to run candidates for Cleveland city office until the end of the century.

The national Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) also officially began in Cleveland in 1874. WOMEN had participated in activities such as the Martha Washington & Dorcas Society and in auxiliaries to other temperance organizations. In 1850 a Ladies Temperance Union had been established in Cleveland. Tactics of these groups reflected the 19th-century belief in woman's natural piety and morality, encouraging women to join reform efforts designed to improve male behavior, but limiting them to moral suasion or other socially accepted strategies. Inspired by the "crusades" of praying and exhorting women who descended upon local saloons in small Ohio towns, Cleveland women in 1874 formally established the Woman's Temperance League of Cleveland. The league, which affiliated with the national WCTU in 1880, attempted to convert the drinker to temperance and Protestant Christianity. It founded "temperance inns" which preached "gospel temperance" and provided inexpensive lodgings and meals. In 1885, when the national WCTU endorsed the Prohibition party, a group within the Cleveland WCTU withdrew to form the WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION, NON-PARTISAN, OF CLEVELAND. Cleveland women loyal to the national organization coalesced around the Cuyahoga County WCTU, which worked for scientific temperance education in the public schools and campaigned actively for woman suffrage, Prohibition party candidates, and the passage of a state prohibition amendment. The Non-Partisan supported the temperance and school ballots for women but not universal suffrage. The local Non-Partisan WCTU was the more active of the 2 groups; Cleveland became a center for the national and state Non-Partisan movement. In 1927 the WCTU, Non-Partisan, of Cleveland became the Women's Philanthropic Union.

The national Anti-Saloon League, a political pressure group staffed by paid professionals, originated in 1893 in Oberlin, OH. Its strength lay in evangelical Protestant churches which provided funds and pulpits, for league speakers and lists of registered voters, but the league also utilized new techniques of mass communication. Its single-minded goal was to eliminate saloons. In Cleveland, the Ohio Anti-Saloon league shared the headquarters of the WCTU Non-Partisan, whose members also served on the league board. The league had its own publishing company, which produced millions of pages of temperance materials, including an annual yearbook with information on the national consumption of alcohol and listings of state and federal liquor laws, dry U.S. counties and cities, and national temperance groups. The league endorsed candidates for local and state office and worked for state prohibition amendments in Ohio in 1914, 1915, and 1917. In 1918 Ohio did pass such an amendment, and in Jan. 1919 it passed the 18th Prohibition Amendment to the federal Constitution, which became law a year later.

Temperance reformers hailed their triumph and claimed that prohibition had indeed brought prosperity, morality, health, and happiness, but remained active to consolidate their gains. The Prohibition Party ran presidential candidates throughout the 1920s, each platform demanding vigorous federal enforcement of the amendment. The national WCTU continued to emphasize education and held its Golden Jubilee in 1924 in Cleveland. The Cuyahoga County WCTU increased its membership. In 1928 the Anti-Saloon League endorsed Herbert Hoover for president over Alfred Smith, who favored repeal of Prohibition.

With the onset of the Depression, supporters of repeal argued that it would bring back prosperity by creating jobs for workers and tax revenues for state and federal governments. In 1933 Ohio voted for repeal of both the state and federal prohibition amendments; Cleveland endorsed repeal enthusiastically. Well-planned, well-financed action, combined with fortuitous circumstances, made Prohibition's repeal possible. Repeal symbolized the repudiation of the 19th-century lifestyle and value system that had fostered the temperance movement in small towns such as Cleveland, where benevolence, evangelical religion, and self-discipline had been preached and practiced. As the city grew and became more ethnically diverse, and as its reform efforts became secular and professionalized, temperance associations, rooted in the 19th-century, lost their appeal. The Prohibition party and the national WCTU remained active in the 1990s; the Anti-Saloon League became part of the American Council on Alcohol Problems.

Marian J. Morton

John Carroll Univ.


Last Modified: 22 Jul 1997 02:29:06 PM

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