Mansplaining Temperance (or Temperance War, part 2)

Last week, we looked at the temperance education curriculum at the Jacksonville Female Academy. This week, we’ll consider the first two weeks of the activism that led to the adoption of that curriculum. On Monday, March 16, 1874, a headline in the Jacksonville Daily Journal announced, “The Temperance Crusade: The Ladies Organized and the Assault Commenced.” Jacksonville, it seems, was under attack. But no one, neither the foot solders nor those under siege knew quite what to make of it.

On Friday and Saturday, March 13-14, 1874, dozens of women gathered at the First Presbyterian Church, organized the Jacksonville Woman’s Temperance Union, and formed committees to visit drug stores and saloons. In doing so, they joined The Women’s Crusade that unfolded in more than 250 communities in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Midwest during the winter of 1873-1874. Women across the country organized locally, turning to non-violent protest, prayer vigils, meetings, and fundraising to close saloons and liquor stores. By November of that year, national organizers had garnered enough support to found the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the first and largest single-issue activist group by and for women. This is exciting, because women’s movements are most often studied from the top down. By looking at one town, we can glimpse how the WCTU emerged from the grassroots.

For Jacksonville residents, temperance was hardly a novel issue. In The Social Order of a Frontier Community, historian Don Doyle detailed municipal efforts during the 1840s and 1850s to limit alcohol consumption as a means to subdue unruly Irish and German immigrants living in “The Patch” (Jacksonville’s current First Ward) and working in the city’s manufacturing centers. What made the Women’s Crusade unique was that it brought men and women together in public spaces. The laws governing women’s public behavior were unlike those of the previous generation, but in the first two weeks we see both men and women somewhat unsure about what to make of it.

On March 16, the Jacksonville Daily Journal reported that the women had already made several visits to drug stores where they asked proprietors to  sign the following pledge:

I pledge my word and honor that I will not sell or give any one anything that intoxicated, except upon the prescription of a respectable physician.

Of the eight establishments they entered, three druggists signed the pledge, three druggists were absent and could not answer, and two: Rockwell & Adams, and Mr. Young, of Hockenhull, Young, & Co.. were “opposed on general principles to signing pledges, and as [they] had not sold liquor, did not wish to sign the one under discussion.”

Women were regular customers at these local shops, but interfering with a proprietor’s daily business was brazen. According to the news report, neither the women nor the business men knew quite what to expect, especially saloon keepers who anticipated they would be next. The March 16th story noted:

“It was known that the ladies had a meeting, and the saloon keepers very generally expected a visitation though we understand that the ladies prefer personal and private efforts to street parades, and will try such measures before resorting to anything else. One saloon keeper dressed his establishment in mourning in anticipation of a visit and had some bottles filled with water which he intended in mockery to pour out, in case he was visited. Committees of ladies have also visited all or nearly all who lease buildings or rooms used as saloons, without receiving much encouragement.”

That the ladies preferred “personal and private efforts to street parades,” tells us that they were a bit uncertain about asserting themselves in public, especially when they received no encouragement from the saloon keepers. According to a later newspaper article, Jacksonville had twenty saloons, making their crusade quite a daunting task (though this was a much reduced number thanks to licensing laws. Prior to that, Jacksonville boasted more than 50 drinking establishments).

The women held a second meeting that afternoon, on March 16, at Grace Methodist Church. They adopted a constitution, heard from Mrs. Hettie Israel, president of the Ladies’ Benevolent Society (LBS), another local women’s group dedicated to allievating poverty. Israel claimed that through the winter of 1873-1874, the LBS provided assistance to 49 families and dozens of single individuals, most of whom were “victims, directly, of intemperance. In most cases, the husbands and fathers of these families were drunkards and in some cases left those dependent upon them without bread to eat or fire to keep them warm.”

But then something curious happened at this meeting. The men started speaking. This was not necessarily unusual, as men had been speaking at women’s meetings and mansplaining their organizations for decades (see the Ladies’ Association for the education of Females). In doing so, these men offered permission for women to behave as activists (though this too was under constant scrutiny. The newspaper reporter noted that at the meeting “the arguments were calm, deliberate, unimpassioned, unprejudiced productions.”) At least six men were present at this second meeting and all six said prayers or gave speeches. One Professor DeMotte inspired the audience by noting that “Young ladies  could do much to stop tippling, but avoiding young men addicted to the habit.” The president of the organization, Lucy Hall Washington (and wife of Rev. Shadrach Washington), did nothing to counter such sentiments when later in the meeting she pointed out women’s inferior status before the law. She said, “We cannot take up the subject in a legal manner, but we trust in a higher law.”

In subsequent meetings, men’s voices overtook those of the women. For example, at their next meeting on March 21, hundreds of guests arrived to hear IC professor Jonathan Baldwin Turner, J.E. Durin, Rev. Shadrach Washington, and Judge H.E. Dummer (father of the Dummer sisters) speak on “necessity of signing the pledge.” We could interpret this as prominent men talking to other men, especially as women moved into new territory where their safety could be compromised. Knowing that the women had the strong support of their husbands and other allies might make proprietors of saloons think twice before allowing these women to be harassed. After all, even contemporary research shows that men facilitate significant change for women simply by being more astute and assertive bystanders.

And we know there was some trouble. At the meeting on March 21, fifteen or twenty “rowdy” young men made a “continual uproar,” used foul language, and blocked the doorways. According to one editorial, the young men”elbowed the crowd back, kept their ground in the entry, and for more than five minutes almost entirely blockaded  the passage. They stood until all were out of the room, leered at the ladies, and with brazen imprudence bandied rough jokes and insolent remarks.” Should it happen again, the editor of the Jacksonville Daily Journal threatened to publish their names and call the police. “The time for change has arrived,” he declared.

Saloons were rough places. There’s no denying that. On the other hand, there is evidence that the women could speak to these issues perfectly well on their own. On March 17, a letter titled “After the Crusade- What?” and signed M.T. Bailey outlined what the women should do. Initially, I thought this was yet another case of mansplaining. Upon looking through the census, however, I came across a Mary T. Bailey, the wife of a prominent printer and described in one county history as “a lady of some local literary reputation.” Her letter outlined a clear plan of action, including the construction of a “City House” or community center, to offer a large meeting hall, adult education courses, wholesome entertainment, a library, “plain refreshments,” and sitting room with a bright window, “filled with plants, to call up to many minds a memory of some far off home, with its restraining and virtuous influence.”

Just as Dr. Joel Dorman Steele intended to provide women with scientific justifications for temperance in his textbook, Bailey also urged the citizens of Jacksonville to see beyond the emotion. She wrote that effective activism “required patience, hope, faith, energy, charity, and – money. And the greatest of these in this case money. When we consider the money expended yearly on the churches, all over the land, and consider too, that much of it is spent in useless adornment, showy decorations, which tends to banish from the churches many of the poorer classes, who cannot but feel that with all this finery they are out of place, we are lead to ask, can not the stumbling block be removed and in its place a stepping stone be raised?” She understood that simply closing saloons would not bring about the desired goals. The citizens of Jacksonville needed alternatives, and not just for recreation. One saloon keeper told the women that he would give up his business if the ladies would purchase his remaining stock of alcoholic beverages.

What strikes me most as a historian is the consistency of rhetoric and activism that characterized temperance activism nationwide. In some cases, local efforts took on unique flavors based on the whims of individual leaders and geographic conditions. Yet in Jacksonville, the men and women leading the movement appear to be exceedingly well-read and informed. So next week, we’ll think more about who was involved with the Woman Temperance Crusade in Jacksonville. While there are certainly progressive tones to the activism that took place on those days, there were also rigid, stubborn parameters that shaped the rhetoric activists employed.

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