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A cartoon from Australia.
A temperance movement is a social movement against the use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance movements may criticize excessive alcohol use, promote complete abstinence, or pressure the government to enact anti-alcohol legislation.

Temperance movement by country



In Ireland, a Catholic priest Theobald Matthew persuaded thousands of people to sign the pledge, therefore establishing the Teetotal Abstinence Society in 1838.

Many years later, in 1898 James Cullen founded the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in response of the fading influence of the original temperance pledge.

New Zealand

In New Zealand at the end of the 19th Century it became apparent that problems associated with settlement, such as larrikinism and drunkenness, were growing in society. Increasing urbanization heightened public awareness of the gap between social aspirations and reality of the young colony. Generalisations from newspapers, visiting speakers & politicians in the 1890s allowed development of large public overreaction and fervour to the magnitude of the problem of alcohol. It became the firm opinion of a number of prominent New Zealandersmarker that the colony’s problems were associated with alcohol.

Despite the efforts of the temperance movement, the rate of convictions for drunkenness remained constant in New Zealand. The rapid increase in the number of convictions for public drunkenness was more a reflection of the growing population rather than social denigration.

The pressure applied from the temperance movement crippled New Zealand’s young wine industry post World War I.

In 1834, the first recorded temperance meeting was held in the Bay of Islands (Northland). The 1860’s saw the foundation of a large number of temperance societies. Many provinces passed licensing ordinances giving residents the right to secure, by petition, the cancellation or granting of liquor licenses in their district. The Licensing Act of 1873 allowed the prohibition of liquor sales in districts if petitioned by two-thirds of residents. In 1886 a national body called the New Zealand Alliance for Suppression and Abolition of the Liquor Traffic was formed pushing for control of the liquor trade as a democratic right. In 1893 the Alcoholic Liquors Sale Control Act aligned licensing districts with parliamentary electorates. In 1894 Clutha electorate voted ‘no-license’ and in 1902 Matauramarker and Ashburtonmarker followed suit. In 1905 Invercargillmarker, Oamarumarker and Greylynn voted ‘no-license’. In 1908 Bruce, Wellington suburbs, Wellington South, Mastertonmarker, Ohinemuri and Eden voted ‘no-license' and many wine makers were denied the right to sell their wines locally and were forced out of business.

In 1911 the Liquor Amendment Act provided for national poll on prohibition and the New Zealand Viticultural Association was formed to “save this fast decaying industry by initiation of such legislation as will restore confidence among those who after long years of waiting have almost lost confidence in the justice of the Government. Through harsh laws and withdrawal of government support and encouragement that had been promised, a great industry had been practically ruined.”

In 1914 sensing a growing feeling of wowserism, Prime Minister Massey lambasted Dalmatian wine as "a degrading, demoralizing and sometimes maddening drink."

On April 10, 1919 a national poll for continuance was carried with 51%, due only to votes of Expeditionary Force soldiers returning from Europe. On December 7 a second poll failed by 3363 votes to secure prohibition over continuance or state purchase and control of liquor. Restrictive legislation was introduced on sale of liquor, and by 1928 the percentage of prohibition votes begin to decline.

Sri Lanka

The Temperance movement in Sri Lanka was motivated by Buddhism. It was also a front line organisation in the National Independence Movement. Most of the early officers of the society were pioneers in gaining independence. "The Temperance Movement was identified as the foundation for the independence struggle and many were killed,". The "Sura Virodhi Vyaparaya" against alcoholism launched by Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala in 1895, was seen by the British rulers as a direct attack on their regime which rented out taverns to get revenue for government coffers. At that time there were 2,038 taverns. After the Temperance Movement agitation there was a drastic drop to 190.

United Kingdom

Band of Hope Banner from Cornwall.

In March 1832 Joseph Livesey started his Temperance Movement in Prestonmarker, requiring followers to sign a pledge of total abstinence. The term Teetotal is derived from a speech by John Turner, a follower of Livesey, in Preston in 1833. The British Association for the Promotion of Temperance was established by 1835. Within a few years the Temperance movement was advocating complete teetotalism rather than moderation.

In 1847 the Band of Hope was founded in Leedsmarker, to save working class children from the perils of drink. The members had to pledge to abstain "from all liquors of an intoxicating quality, whether ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits, except as medicine"

In 1853, inspired by the Maine law in the USA, the United Kingdom Alliance led by John B. Gough was formed aimed at promoting a similar law prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the UK. This hard-line group of prohibitionists was opposed by other temperance organisations who preferred moral persuasion to a legal ban. This division in the ranks limited the effectiveness of the temperance movement as a whole. The impotence of legislation in this field was demonstrated when the Sale of Beer Act 1854 which restricted Sunday opening hours had to be repealed, following widespread rioting. In 1859 a prototype prohibition bill was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons.

Despite this setback Quakers and the Salvation Army (founded in 1865) still lobbied parliament to restrict alcohol sales. Nonconformists were active with large numbers of Baptist and Congregational ministers being teetotal. In Wales Lady Llanover closed all the public houses on her estate and was an outspoken critic of the evils of drink.

The League of the Cross was a Catholic total abstinence organisation founded in 1873 by Cardinal Manning. In 1876 the British Women's Temperance Association was formed to persuade men to stop drinking and in 1884 the National Temperance Federation, associated with the Liberal Party was founded.

The temperance movement received an unexpected boost due to state intervention when the Liberal government passed the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. According to the provisions of this act pub hours were licensed, beer was watered down and was subject to a penny a pint extra tax. This situation was maintained by the subsequent establishment of the State Management Scheme in 1916 which nationalised breweries and pubs in certain areas of Britain where armaments manufacture was taking place.

However in the end the dismal example of the complete failure of National Prohibition in America in the 1920s put paid to any remote chance that the temperance lobby would succeed in achieving its aims in the UK

It should be recorded that the former Manchester City F.C. football stadium Maine Roadmarker took its name from a street that had been renamed Maine Road (from Dog Kennel Lane) by members of the Temperence Movement. They selected the name as a result of the 1853 Maine law. Since the demolition of the stadium, the street's significance has reduced however it still retains the name as recognition of the works performed by the Temperance Movement in that area of Manchester.

Mathew James Fitzpatrick's in Rawtenstall is the last remaining temperance bar in the UK and still to this day provides the region with non-alcoholic beverages and cordials to refresh and invigorate the mind and body; the labels of their bottles bears one of the last temperance pledges to be signed in the area.

United States

'Sons of Temperance' Procession, Hill End, 1872.
Image from collection of National Archives of Australia.

As the American Revolution approached, economic change and urbanization were accompanied by increasing poverty, ordinances were relaxed and alcohol problems increased dramatically. Apparently influenced by Dr. Benjamin Rush's widely discussed belief, about 200 farmers in a Connecticutmarker community formed a temperance association in 1789. Similar associations were formed in Virginiamarker in 1800 and New York Statemarker in 1808. Within the next decade, other temperance organizations were formed in eight states, some being state-wide organizations.

The future looked bright for the young movement, which advocated temperance or levelness rather than abstinence. But many of the leaders overestimated their strength; they expanded their activities and took positions on of the Sabbath, and other moral issues. They became involved in political in-fighting and by the early 1820s their movement stalled.

But some leaders persevered in pressing their cause forward. Americans such as Lyman Beecher, who was a Connecticut minister, had started to lecture his fellow citizens against all use of liquor in 1825. The American Temperance Society was formed in 1826 and benefited from a renewed interest in religion and morality. Within 12 years it claimed more than 8,000 local groups and over 1,500,000 members. By 1839, 18 temperance journals were being published. Simultaneously, many Protestant churches were beginning to promote temperance.

Temperance Education

In 1880 the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) established a Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges, with Mary Hunt as National Superintendent. She believed that voters "must first be convinced that alcohol and kindred narcotics are by nature outlaws, before they will outlaw them. " Elizabeth D. Gelok was one of the women that taught Scientific Temperance Instruction at the Schools and Colleges for the students. She was also a member of the WCTU along with Mary Hunt. She was one of the most well-known a Scientific Temperance Instruction teachers Elizabeth decided to use legislation to coerce the moral suasion of students, who would be the next generation of voters. This gave birth to the idea of the compulsory Scientific Temperance Instruction Movement.

By the turn of the century, Mary Hunt’s efforts along with Elizabeth's and the other teacher's proved to be highly successful. Virtually every state, the District of Columbiamarker, and all United States possessions had strong legislation mandating that all students receive anti-alcohol education. Furthermore, the implementation of this legislation was closely monitored down to the classroom level by legions of determined and vigilant WCTU members throughout the nation.

Temperance writers viewed the WCTU's program of compulsory temperance education as a major factor leading to the establishment of National Prohibition with passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Other knowledgeable observers, including the U.S. Commissioner of Education, agreed.

Because of the correlation between drinking and domestic violence—many drunken husbands abused family members—the temperance movement existed alongside various women's rights and other movements, including the Progressive movement, and often the same activists were involved in all of the above. Many notable voices of the time, ranging from Lucy Webb Hayes to Susan B. Anthony, were active in the movement. In Canadamarker, Nellie McClung was a longstanding advocate of temperance. As with most social movements, there was a gamut of activists running from violent (Carrie Nation) to mild (Neal S. Dow).

For decades prohibition was seen by temperance movement zealots and their followers as the almost magical solution to the nation's poverty, crime, violence, and other ills. On the eve of prohibition the invitation to a church celebration in New York said "Let the church bells ring and let there be great rejoicing, for an enemy has been overthrown and victory crowns the forces of righteousness." Jubilant with victory, some in the WCTU announced that, having brought Prohibition to the United States, it would now go forth to bring the blessing of enforced abstinence to the rest of the world.

The famous evangelist Billy Sunday staged a mock funeral for John Barleycorn and then preached on the benefits of prohibition. "The reign of tears is over," he asserted. "The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs." Since alcohol was to be banned and since it was seen as the cause of most, if not all, crime, some communities sold their jails. One sold its jail to a farmer who converted it into a combination pig and chicken house while another converted its jail into a tool house.

Anti-Saloon League

The Anti-Saloon League, under the leadership of Wayne Wheeler stressed political results and utilized pressure politics. It did not demand that politicians change their drinking habits, only their votes in the legislature. Other organizations like the Prohibition Party and the WCTU lost influence to the League. The League mobilized its religious coalition to pass state (and local) legislation. Energized by the anti-German sentiment during World War I, in 1918 it achieved the main goal of passage of the 18th Amendment establishing National Prohibition.

Temperance organizations

Temperance organizations of the United States played an essential role in bringing about ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution establishing national prohibition of alcohol. They included:

There was often considerable overlap in membership in these organizations, as well as in leadership. Prominent temperance leaders in the United States included Bishop James Cannon, Jr., James Black, Ernest Cherrington, Neal S. Dow, Mary Hunt, William E. Johnson (known as "Pussyfoot" Johnson), Carrie Nation, Howard Hyde Russell, John St. John, Billy Sunday, Father Mathew, Andrew Volstead and Wayne Wheeler.

See also


  1. 1893 Act
  2. The temperance movement in New Zealand
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. Licensing Act of 1873, New Zealand
  6. New Zealand Alliance
  7. New Zealand referendum, 1919
  8. Sri Lankan Sunday Times article
  9. The Band of Hope Banner, illustrated, is in the Heritage Centre at the village of Constantine in Cornwall
  10. Joseph Livesey— the poor people's friend
  11. AskOxford: teetotal
  12. Nick Brownlee (2002) This is Alcohol: 99
  13. Nick Brownlee (2002) This is Alcohol: 99-100
  14. Sparatacus.schoolnet
  15. Nick Brownlee (2002) This is Alcohol: 106
  16. Nick Brownlee (2002) This is Alcohol: 107


  • Jack S. Blocker, David M. Fahey, and Ian R. Tyrrell eds. Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia 2 Vol. (2003)
  • Bordin, Ruth. Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900 1981
  • Ernest Cherrington, Evolution of Prohibition in the United States (1926). by dry leader
  • Ernest Cherrington, ed., Standard Encyclopaedia of the Alcohol Problem 6 volumes (1925-1930), comprehensive international coverage to late 1920s
  • Clark; Norman H. Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition. W.W. Norton , 1976. supports prohibition
  • Dannenbaum, Jed. "The Origins of Temperance Activism and Militancy among American Women", Journal of Social History vol. 14 (1981): 235-36.
  • Heath, Dwight B. (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995.a
  • Harrison, Brian Drink & the Victorians, the Temperance question in England 1815-1872, Faber and Faber, 1971
  • James, Gary The Big Book Of City, James Ward, 2009
  • Jensen, Richard. The Winning of the Midwest, Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896 University of Chicago Press, 1971
  • McConnell, D. W. Temperance Movements. In: Seligman, Edwin R. A., and Johnson, Alvin (eds.) Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. , 1933.
  • Odegard, Peter H. Pressure Politics: The Story of the Anti-Saloon League. 1928.
  • Seabury, Olive The Carlisle State Management Scheme: A 60 year experiment in Regulation of the Liquor Trade, Bookcase Carlisle, 2007
  • Sheehan, Nancy M. The WCTU and education: Canadian-American illustrations. Journal of the Midwest History of Education Society, 1981, P, 115-133.
  • Smith, Rebecca. The Temperance Movement and Class Struggle in Vicorian England. Loyola University, 1993.
  • Timberlake, James H. Prohibition and the Progressive Movement, 1900-1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963.
  • Tracy, Sarah W. and Caroline Jean Acker; Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000 U of Massachusetts Press, 2004
  • Tyrrell, Ian; Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930 U of North Carolina Press, 1991

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