Temperance Movement: Once Misunderstood, Could Apply Today

There were many in the mid-1880s who believed that the ban of alcoholic beverages would eliminate a number of problems in the United States. This belief was so strong among women that the temperance movement led to the 1874 creation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, 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.

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.

As women played a key role in leadership during the temperance movement, the implementation today would be much more natural, given the role of women in society today. The movement also demonstrated very effective local activism, was successful in changing licensing law and encouraging the involvement of the local government to develop opportunities for networking and coalitions. The scientific discussion involving the impact of alcohol on the body is still applicable.

There are some who would suggest that a new temperance movement is emerging in which individuals are monitoring and managing themselves. Given the consistent increases in binge drinking instances and associated injuries, this type of movement needs help from the larger population in order to be effective.