A Modern Take On The Temperance Movement

Could a new temperance movement — focused on the joys of a substance-free life — succeed where American Prohibition (1919–1933) failed? Concerned by a referendum to legalize marijuana, the Maine chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is doubling down.

Spearheading the movement is the Reverend David Perkins. “We just want to bring a new passion here,” he said. “It’s not that we want to be self-righteous and condemn you because you’re drinking or drugging or you’re smoking pot. It’s not that. We want to love you but tell you that there are ill effects.”

The “Women’s Crusades”

Many in the mid-1880s believed that the ban of alcoholic beverages would eliminate a number of problems in the United States. Their faith led to the 1874 creation of the WCTU, setting the stage for the establishment of the Anti-Saloon League in 1895.

The temperance movement — and its subsequent organizations — focused on the American prohibition of the manufacture and consumption of all alcoholic beverages. The power of this movement carried over into political influence and as a result, prohibition was introduced into the election process. The support of prohibition was demonstrated by President Woodrow Wilson as one of his domestic policies in the New Freedom Program.

The temperance movement was not based solely in the complete banning of all alcoholic beverages, but had a broader focus. It was instead based on abstinence and the ability of an individual to control his or her occasional drinking. Much of the movement was based in moral and religious standards, yet it was not necessarily meant to create a nationwide ban, but rather to educate citizens on how to enjoy a drink without going overboard or support those who chose not the drink at all.

A message that could combat binge drinking

This fact is quite different from the reputation the temperance movement has developed over the years. If this perception can be set aside, however, key fundamentals within the movement can actually be used to address the problem of binge drinking. According to a report put out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the battle against the growing problem of binge drinking could be waged by applying principles first explored in the temperance movement more than a century ago.

Much of the virtue of the temperance movement focused on whether or not alcohol use is good for the individual and how to mobilize education, the media and the extent to which local government should be involved in the control of alcohol consumption. The key point of control — or even abstinence — could greatly impact the binge drinking phenomenon occurring today.

The WCTU’s website defines temperance as “”the moderate use of all things good, and total abstinence from all things questionable or harmful.” So far, the revived cause has only attracted 5,000 followers. It remains to be seen if the modern movement will truly take hold.

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