In yesterday’s post, we looked at what the citizens of Norwalk were up to on Sunday, 110 years before. According to the Norwalk Reflector issue for Saturday, January 13, 1907, many of them would be in church. And at the Presbyterian Church, parishioners would receive an address from a representative of the Anti-Saloon League.
What I failed to mention in yesterday’s post was that representatives of the Anti-Saloon League also were scheduled to speak to two other churches, Baptist and Congregationalist. The following Monday, January 14, the Daily Reflector ran an article describing all three addresses in glowing terms.
In the light of the abject failure of Prohibition, it is common these days to portray the leaders of the temperance movement as a collection of sanctimonious hypocrites. But in 1907, the movement was considered to be progressive, and was a reaction to the horrible abuses of alcohol in the previous century.
To understand what I mean, we need to look back to the root cause of the temperance movement. In Colonial America, it was common for farmers to drink cider, beer and other low-alcohol beverages “from dawn to dusk.” Agricultural was backbreaking in those days, and maintaining a buzz helped numb the continuous aches and pains brought on by these hard labors. Alcohol also helped relieve the tedium of the work, and the boredom of long winters with nothing to do.
However, after the Revolutionary War, lands further west of the original colonies opened for settlement. The pioneers who cleared these fertile forests soon were producing more grain, especially corn, than they could consume. In those days before the railroad, inland transportation was too expensive to transport this bounty. But corn could be fed to hogs, which then could be driven to market. And it also could be distilled into whiskey, which could be shipped more cheaply than bulk corn.
Herein lay the problem. Farmers, and the incipient laboring class did not change their drinking habits, they just switched to hard liquor. Alcoholism became epidemic. The children of those men witnessed firsthand the consequences of their father’s addiction: how it ruined their health and lives, and spawned abuse of loved ones.
These children of those pioneers, as they grew to adulthood, were primed for the arguments of the temperance movement. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll look at how this movement evolved to become the force it was in 1907.