Gender and Religion in the Temperance Crusades: The Emergence of Women in the Public Sphere
While women had been part of the temperance movement almost from the beginning, in the 1870s their role shifted from domestic support to overt political action. The temperance movement began in the early Nineteenth century and the Protestant Church quickly became the dominant force. The Church initially sought to eliminate intemperance through social conditioning and religious conviction. Temperance was a women's issue, because alcohol abuse threatened the home. Women were the moral authorities of the domestic sphere, so they could participate in social and religious conditioning against alcohol without stepping outside of their traditional role. While women were encouraged to join temperance groups, their participation was limited to engaging in moral suasion, influencing their husbands and sons by instilling temperance values.
It became apparent that moral suasion was not effective and male temperance reformers began to seek political and legal solutions to the temperance problem. This left women unsure of their role in the movement. Many women distrusted the male-dominated legal system and believed that involvement of women was necessary for the movement to be successful. Men were reluctant to allow women to participate in their legal and political efforts, but dwindling memberships forced them to integrate women into their campaigns.
Meanwhile, some women took matters into their own hands. In a few isolated incidents, groups of highly respected women threatened bar and saloon operators and demolished their establishments. These outbursts were seen as domestic, not public, actions which were the result of instinctive maternal behavior and the women weren't punished.
The temperance movement died down during the Civil War, but resurged when men returned from the war with hardened drinking habits. The Temperance Crusades began in December of 1873 when women in Southern Ohio banded together to confront local saloon owners and liquor dealers, singing and praying until the saloons were shut down and the liquor stores were forfeited. The protests spread throughout the Midwest and saloons were shut down in hundreds of small towns. The effect of the Crusades on the liquor industry was short lived, but they changed the way women thought about themselves and awakened them to the struggle for political reform. The women of Ohio turned their attention to the Ohio Constitutional Convention and the debate over female suffrage and liquor licensing laws. Although the Convention didn't change the liquor laws or female suffrage, women who had participated in the Crusades and lobbied at the Convention were inspired. They formed the Women's Christian Temperance Union and began to use their moral and religious convictions to impact politics.
Before the Temperance Crusades, women used moral suasion and spiritual conversion to save men's souls from the evils of alcohol. Afterwards, women tried to save souls by introducing Christian ideals to the law and the political process. When activist women left the domestic sphere for the realm of political activism, they moved beyond temperance to the issue of women's suffrage.
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