Temperance Movement

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A large group of women and some men gathered outside of Family Groceries in Waynesville, Ohio during the Women's Temperance Crusade of 1873-1874. The women were protesting the sale of alcoholic beverages.

The temperance movement took place in the United States from about 1800 to 1933. In the early 1800s, many Americans believed that drinking was immoral and that alcohol was a threat to the nation’s success. These beliefs led to widespread support for temperance, which means not drinking alcohol.

Temperance supporters wanted to prohibit, or stop, other people from making and drinking beer, wine, and liquor in the U.S. From the beginning, Ohio was an important place for the temperance movement. Ohioans helped Prohibition succeed in 1920.

In the 1820s, hundreds of temperance groups were founded across the U.S. One important group was the American Christian Temperance Union. This group started with 222 local chapters in 1826. By 1835, there were 8,000 chapters.

Ohioans formed local temperance groups early in the movement. For example, Trumbull County formed a group in 1826 and Summit County formed a group in 1829. Even though the number of groups grew throughout the U.S. into the 1840s, these local groups usually worked alone.

During the 1800s, American women were expected to keep a happy home and raise good children. When their husbands spent money on drinking, wives did not always have enough left to pay for their family’s food and clothing. Many women thought temperance would solve this problem, so they supported the movement.

However, most temperance groups were run by men and many groups did not let women join. Instead, women formed their own temperance groups. In the early 1850s, these women’s groups began working together. On January 13, 1853, the first Woman’s Temperance Convention was led by women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony in New York.

With temperance groups working together to gain support, the movement grew. Many states even passed prohibition laws that made it illegal to produce and drink alcohol. However, the American Civil War (1861-1865) stopped these efforts, and alcohol use grew during the war.

After the war, the U.S. economy shifted from farming to factories. This caused cities, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus, to grow quickly. Many Americans believed problems common in cities, like homelessness, unemployment, and crimes, were caused by drinking alcohol.

At its start, the temperance movement was a moral issue. Temperance became a political issue when Ohio formed the Prohibition Party in 1869. Three years later, a Prohibition National Convention was held in Columbus, Ohio. The party nominated candidates to run for U.S. president and vice president in the 1872 election.

As both a political and moral issue for America, the temperance movement changed for women, too. With more public attention, women rallied behind temperance as a social movement as well. Ohio women in particular started using more radical tactics to stop alcohol use.

In 1873, women marched through Hillsboro, Ohio, and stopped at every bar along the way. They prayed for the souls of the people in the bars and made bar owners promise to stop selling alcohol. After the Hillsboro march, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was founded in 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. By 1875, there were similar marches in more than 130 communities.

Most women temperance leaders were white and well known in their communities. Their social standing gave them the most power to cause change. However, African American women played an important role in the temperance movement, even when there was racial discrimination.

In the northern states, African American women joined temperance groups with white women. They listened to the same lectures and programs, although the meetings were still segregated. In the southern states, Jim Crow laws prohibited African American and white women from belonging to the same temperance groups.

Ohio women who made major contributions to temperance include Hallie Q. Brown, Sarah W. Early, Eliza D. Stewart, and Eliza J. Thompson. These women and other temperance supporters in Ohio faced barriers. Some women wanted more focus on women’s suffrage, which is the right to vote. Some churches scolded women for not acting like ladies. Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati city governments even passed laws against marches because they stopped traffic.

The temperance movement became more politically active at the turn of the century. Temperance supporters wanted progressive reforms in the U.S., including the prohibition of alcohol. In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. This amendment outlawed the production and sale of alcohol in the U.S.

Prohibition remained in effect until the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933. This amendment repealed, or canceled, the Eighteenth Amendment. With the end of Prohibition, organized temperance movements declined in popularity and in power.


  1. Bordin, Ruth. Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981.
  2. Cherrington, E. H. The Evolution of Prohibition in the United States of America. Westerville, Ohio: The American Issue Press, 1920.
  3. Mattingly, Carol. Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth Century Temperance Rhetoric. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998.

See Also