Race, Class, & the Temperance War… Part 3

In our final installment on the Temperance War of Spring 1874, we’ll consider the identities of the women who participated in the Woman’s Temperance Crusade. You will not be shocked to learn they were primarily white, educated, middle class women with some social standing and extensive social networks in Jacksonville. Of course they were. But what was their experience like, and who did they exclude from their crusade?

The correspondence of Grace, May, and Katie Dummer, housed in the Ethel Sturges Dummer papers at the Schlesinger Library, provided the first leads about women’s temperance activities in Jacksonville. You may remember from last week that women first organized a temperance union on March 13, 1874, and that their first few weeks were somewhat uncertain as they found their footing. By the end of the month, they appear to have hit their stride.

On April 1, 1874, 20-year-old Katie wrote about ongoing temperance activities to her older brother, Frank:

“We are having a great time about the place. We have mass meetings two or three times a week and a prayer meeting every afternoon, and the ladies have commenced visiting saloons, there were sixty-nine out yesterday… There is scarcely anything else talked about here, and the meetings are so exciting I dare not go to them.”

Her hesitation is interesting, given that her father was an advocate for the cause and headlined as the main speaker at a temperance meeting just a week before. On the other hand, you may also recall from last week that the Woman’s Temperance Union prefered “personal and private efforts to street parades, and will try such measures before resorting to anything else.” Their first visits to saloons and drug stores (at least according to the local papers) were just that, social calls and polite requests for proprietors to sign pledges. By the time Katie wrote to Frank on April 1, however, the tenor had changed. On March 30, the Jackonville Daily Journal reported that women had taken to holding what we might call a “sit-in.” One story described how dozens of women walked into Hunt’s Saloon on North Main Street and began singing the doxology. Their actions evoked “a few smiles from spectators,” but the room quickly emptied and Hunt shuttered his establishment the following evening, “not to be reopened.”

And though Katie “dared” not go the meetings, go to them she did all throughout April and May, sometimes traveling to neighboring towns to do “missionary work” and attend prayer meetings outside of Jacksonville. Temperance activities dominated the town’s social scene and more than a month later, on May 11, 1874, 24-year-old May wrote to Frank:

“I have not entered much into the Temperance War, but in the religious excitement I have been deeply interested, and still continue to be. A great many nights we have locked up the house and all gone to meeting.”

Even more surprising to May was the extent to which their 18-year-old brother, Harry (whom she believed to be quite irresponsible in his behavior) was swept up in the fervor. She wrote:

“I have been surprised that Henry has gone so much for he does not seem to have progressed any in his experience, and I know he is annoyed by the attacks made upon him. We all feel very anxious about him for if he goes through this without making up his mind, it will be harder than ever for him to do it. I do not understand myself exactly what is in his way.”

The movement quickly inspired songs, speeches, and theatricals. On March 31, 1874, the Jacksonville Daily Journal published the “Temperance War Song,” penned by D.H. Dunbrack (owner of the local broom factory) and set to music by Professor James Barlow, a professor at the Illinois Conservatory of Music. It called brothers and sisters together to join the fight:


Help, sisters, help, for the sake of humanity.
Help for the father, help for the poor,
Gird on your armor, join the proud squadron,
God is our captain, this is His war.

See, brothers, see, the glad day star arises,
Bright beams of promise are spreading afar,
Rouse and awake from death’s fatal lethargy,
Come and enlist in this glorious war.

Long has Goliah, with death’s heads emblazoned,
Flaunted his lie in the face of God’s poor.
Hurl from his throne the king of seditions,
Bring him in fetters to ‘God’ threshing floor.’

God’s hand controlled all forces in nature,
His the red lightnings that blaze thro’ the sky;
Clouds are His chariot, the whirlwind, the fire,
Proclaims but the truth, that He raleth on high.

In the evening after the women closed down Hunt’s Saloon, crowds gathered at Centenary Methodist Church to hear speeches. Illinois College professor E.A. Tanner spoke on the need for legislation, as well as the importance of women to the cause, noting that temperance demanded women speak publicly on the issue:

“Shame upon the man that would point a finger of scorn or derision  at them as they labor. If a woman can point out the facts, and plead stronger against rum drinking than a man, does the Lord Jesus Christ bid her stop? No! Man as always loved woman. Man has always loved wine. If the love of woman, sanctified by the love of Jesus Christ, can check a man’s love for wine, then, in the name of heavens, so let it be.”

Tanner was then followed by five female speakers identified as Miss Gaylord, Miss Allen (of the Illinois Female College), Mrs. Horace Billings, Mrs. Washington, and Mrs. J.M. North, who spoke of the day’s activities shutting down saloons. She asserted that temperance had “developed a power that was unknown to woman before.”

Over the next three nights, speakers and theatricals addressed temperance at the Opera House, with temperance themed plays performed by nationally renowned actress Susan Denin:

Susan Denin

A little bit of research on Ancestry.com reveals that the women who spoke at these events were married to prominent citizens, wealthy merchants, and respected ministers. They were all white. Most had children (many had young children) and all employed domestic servants. Though they claimed all were welcome at their meetings, the protests, plays, speeches, and activities they sponsored required cash resources, leisure time, and most importantly, social capital to avoid arrest. The religious nature of their poems and plays shows us how their faith inspired their activism, and set the parameters for who should be included and excluded, namely Catholic immigrants.

I was further struck by the absence of non-white participants. They newspaper typically mentioned the racial identity of non-white individuals and their absence is a curiosity, given the thriving African-American community in Jacksonville. For example, you would think that a parade of several hundred people marching by your home to give “three cheers” to your father would warrant mention in a letter to your brother. On March 30, 1874, African-Americans in Jacksonville welcomed a delegation of nearly 200 African Americans from Springfield for a joint celebration commemorating the passage of the 15th Amendment (which gave all citizens, regardless of race, the right to vote). The parade included the Springfield Colored Band, little girls dressed to represent each state with the Goddess of Liberty presiding, and a multitude of ordinary citizens. The parade concluded at Conservatory Hall (the same location as many of the larger temperance meetings – and I’m guessing this is why the temperance group met at a church that night, rather than the Hall), where participants shared in an elaborate meal and heard speakers, including Frances Watkins Harper, a nationally renowned author, speaker, and outspoken advocate of middle class morality and temperance. On March 31, 1874, the Jacksonville Daily Journal noted, “Our colored fellow citizens may well consider the celebration as one of the best that they have yet arranged.” There is a hint of respectful admiration here, even approval. Yet they did not suggest that this critical mass of voting citizens be integrated with the activities of white activists.

This is yet another situation where we have to pay close attention to the silences. The parade originated on Grove Street, near the Illinois College campus, and was routed to make specific stops, including the home of Judge Henry E. Dummer. A good friend of Lincoln since the 1830s, Dummer had been involved in state and federal politics (see Paul M. Angle, “The Record of a Friendship: A Series of Letters from Lincoln to Henry E. Dummer,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 31, no. 2 (June 1938), p. 125-137). May and Katie were certainly there to see it (Grace was in Chicago receiving medical treatment), but it never came up in their letters. Curious.

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