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temperance movements

temperance movements, organized efforts to induce people to abstain—partially or completely—from alcoholic beverages. Such movements occurred in ancient times, but ceased until the wide use of distilled liquors in the modern period resulted in increasing drunkenness. The stirrings of temperance activity began in the 19th cent. in the United States, Great Britain, and the countries of N Europe, where drinking had greatly increased. Relying on personal appeal, such individuals as Father Theobald Mathew in Ireland and Great Britain and John Bartholomew Gough in the United States secured temperance pledges by preaching that moral degradation, ill health, poverty, and crime were the results of alcoholism. In 1808 a temperance group was formed in Saratoga, N.Y., and in the next few decades societies sprang up in other states and in the British Isles, Norway, and Sweden. International cooperation was begun in the latter half of the 19th cent., one of the most effective groups being the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874 in the United States. The WCTU and the strong Anti-Saloon League (founded in 1895 and now known as the American Council on Alcohol Problems) wielded significant political power in the United States and, turning from moral appeals for moderation and abstinence, demanded government control of liquor. Backed by church groups and some industrialists, they influenced the passage of many liquor laws and eventually succeeded in securing federal prohibition (1919–33). Among the outstanding women temperance workers of the period were Frances Elizabeth Willard, Susan B. Anthony, and Carry Nation. Among the effects of temperance agitation were the stimulation of interest in the scientific study of alcoholism, general instruction in the schools on the effects of alcohol, and government regulation. Unlike later temperance movements, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, these earlier movements did not view alcoholism as a disease and relied on government regulation and suppression of the liquor business to control the problem.

See J. A. Krout, The Origins of Prohibition (1925); H. Asbury, The Great Illusion (1950); J. R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (1963); J. H. Bechtel, Temperance Selections (1893, repr. 1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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