Intoxicating Pursuits

July 12th, 2013

On Friday, July 19 we are hosting a temperance themed party at Rose Hill. And I know what you may be thinking – temperance? What kind of party will that be? Until the late 1800s a majority of temperance advocates were against “ardent spirits” (rum, whiskey, and other hard liquors). Weaker beverages (like wine, beer and cider) were OK along as long as they were drunk in moderation.

Of course temperance advocates had their work cut out for them as alcohol was such an integral part of American life. With coffee, tea, milk and water considered unacceptable beverages, the only other alternative was alcohol. There was the eye opener of rum or whiskey in morning before a glass of beer or cider at breakfast. Offices, shops and factories often closed at 11 am and 4 pm for a quick nip or two. Wine at dinner was followed by night caps to avoid night chills. There were other opportunities throughout the day for a drink or two – social calls, business transactions, birthdays, christenings, graduations, marriages, funerals, elections, court sessions and the list goes on. For every affliction from teething to aches and pains of old age alcohol was prescribed in one form or another (particularly brandy, whiskey and fruit based wines).

In the 1820s and 1830s growing concerns for occupational safety, public safety and personal health led to the development of temperance societies like American Temperance Society, Washington Temperance Society and Sons of Temperance. The societies held conventions, encouraged men to sign pledge cards, circulated petitions, and held lectures. By 1833 there were over 5,000 temperance societies in the United States. Between 1851 and 1855 prohibition laws were even passed in 11 states and 2 territories. Temperance even became part of pop culture. Temperance songs included The Lips that Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine, Girls, Wait for a Temperance Man and Willie Has Signed the Pledge. Beginning in the 1840s, temperance tales (novels, short stories, plays and illustrated materials that warned of the dire medical, social and moral consequences of alcohol) became best sellers.

By the 1850s the temperance movement had lost momentum. The nation’s attention was focused on the approaching of Civil War. European medical reports stated that alcohol was dangerous in excess but alright in moderation. Prohibition legislation was either repealed, modified or simply unforced. During the mid-1870s the movement would gain momentum again. But instead of moderation and personal choice, supporters would advocate for legislative bans on all alcohol for everyone.

So if you would like to discover more about the temperance movement; sample food, wine, beer and temperance beverages popular in the 1800s; listen to  19th-century music; or  explore food and beverage production and consumption at Rose Hill, please join us on Friday, July 19, 2013 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $18 for members and $20 for non-members. We hope to see you there!

For more information on the history of alcohol in the United States and the temperance movement, see The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition by WJ Rorabaugh and Drinking in America: A History by Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin.

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