Only dopes use drugs

I love everything about this book cover, which I encountered at the Frances Willard House Museum & Archives:

See more from Frances Willard.


The Opposition in the WCTU archives

The Frances Willard House Museum & Archives has an extensive collection of books, articles, reference material, and other educational media on topics of all kinds. I’ve looked through hundreds of books and boxes in the WCTU archives, which hold some material as old as Willard herself. Among these titles are subjects you’d expect: medical treatises, temperance sermons and literature.

But I also found things you wouldn’t expect, like the back catalog of The Brewers Journal and anti-temperance literature. One of these “opposition” titles popped out in my recent archival digging. A Prohibition Primer, published in 1931 by an anonymous author and a “liberty-loving Publisher”, is a short but sharp tongue-in-cheek rejoinder to Prohibition and the temperance movement.

Chapters like “What Is Silly About Prohibition?” and “Why Is It Right To Disobey Prohibition?” are embellished by cheeky illustrations that show the “horrors of drink according to Prohibitionists” and caricature temperance advocates as a ghastly, scolding jack-in-the-box. Conversely, a bootlegger with a dapper three-piece suit is given a halo and deemed “a necessary evil.”

Paired with the illustrations, the simple and didactic writing style is aimed directly at children (or adults looking for a laugh):

“At school, if there is anybody you hate more than a big, bullying candy-stealing boy, it is a tattletale. Well, Prohibition is filling up our country and especially its Government offices with the kind of men and women who were tattletales when they were children and have never learned enough to get over it.”

What’s probably obvious by now is that it’s not terribly generous toward the temperance movement:

“From about 1820 on they began trying to force their ideas on everybody. They made speeches in halls, at lectures, in the churches, on the streets. They had ministers preach from their pulpits that it was wicked to drink alcohol. The more they talked the more excited they got. The more excited they got the more things they said that weren’t true and couldn’t be proved.”

How seriously the WCTU worried about their public reputation is hard to say. The book was published not long before the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition, so the movement’s influence was already waning. Regardless, call it opposition research or just plain savviness; the WCTU knew it was important not just to Do Everything, but to Know Everything, especially their rhetorical enemies.

Books History

Tipsy temperance titles

Here’s a Christmas gift idea for the alcoholics in your life:

Working at a museum archives dedicated to the temperance and prohibition movements means I see books, pamphlets, posters, and other promotional/educational material like this all the time. I could put together an entire exhibit of temperance titles that are a) trying to be funny and hip in the youth pastor kind of way, or b) actually funny like this one.


Today In Nerdery

In my continuing work at the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives, I’ve started working with the Willard correspondence, which begins in the mid-1860s and continues through the turn of the century. Because of this, and because of Frances’ high stature as a public figure during that time, there are a few letters I’ve happened upon from some well-known people that gave me that special feeling historians, archivists, and other history lovers feel when they encounter a gem from the past.

Today I came upon letters from another central women’s suffrage figure (Susan B. Anthony), three former First Ladies (Frances Cleveland, Lucy Hayes, and Sarah Polk), Lincoln’s secretary John Nicolay, and a famous author (Louisa May Alcott). And I haven’t even entered the 1890s yet.

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America History

Where There’s A Willard…

I’ve recently started volunteering at the Frances Willard House Museum, specifically in the archives/library, which holds material from and related to the life of Frances Willard, the suffragist and temperance advocate who led the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the late nineteenth century. I got to see the museum’s recent exhibit, titled “Rights or Responsibilities? The WCTU and Woman Suffrage in Illinois”, which documents the development of the women’s suffrage movement in Illinois and the many players involved.

The exhibit spotlights an occurrence, documented in Willard’s journal, that she said helped to “stir up my spirit into a mighty unrest.” It’s 1856 and Willard, who was 17 at the time, along with her sister saw her brother and father off to vote while they had to stay at home:

This is election day and my brother is twenty-one years old. How proud he seemed as he dressed up in his best Sunday clothes and drove off in the big wagon with father and the hired men to vote for John C. Fremont, like the sensible “Free-soiler” that he is. My sister and I stood at the window and looked out after them. Somehow, I felt a lump in my throat, and then I could n’t see their wagon any more, things got so blurred. I turned to Mary, and she, dear little innocent, seemed wonderfully sober, too. I said, “Would n’t you like to vote as well as Oliver? Don’t you and I love the country just as well as he, and does n’t the country need our ballots?” Then she looked scared, but answered in a minute, “‘Course we do, and ‘course we ought,—but don’t you go ahead and say so, for then we would be called strong-minded.”

Willard did say so. She made saying so her life, which ended in 1898, before the women’s suffrage movement hit its crescendo but not before she had made an indelible impact on it. In addition to the Frances Willard House becoming a National Historic Landmark, she was posthumously honored as the first woman to be represented in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.

Amazing what you can learn from museums (and archives and libraries), huh?