The Temperance Movement in Norwalk, Ohio, 1907


In this post, we’ll continue our discussion of the temperance movement in 1907. Norwalk, Ohio was perhaps not a hotbed of probationary activism, but it did enjoy widespread support in the city. Here’s what my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, alumnus of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, wrote in her diary on Monday, November 15, 1910, several years after her high school graduation, when she was a sophomore at Wooster College.

Felt so sleepy after lunch, that I cut art and took a nap. When I woke up, wasn’t I sick. Joy got me some whiskey from Mother Walker and I am all right now, only pretty shaky. That settles it anyway, you’ll never catch me without my little flask again — that is until Norwalk goes dry, and I have to have a doctor’s prescription. [1]

Obviously, prohibition was a real possibility in Norwalk in 1910–and, I assume in the surrounding area as well.

The earliest record I have found of a temperance society in the Firelands was in 1830 in Lyme Township, located twelve miles west of Norwalk. [2] The next oldest record I could find, is of a temperance society organized on New Year’s Day, 1831 in Portland Township, which is now Sandusky. In the beginning, “in the spirit of the day,” this society only sought prohibition of “distilled spirits.” But within two years, in May, 1833, the society’s constitution was amended to prohibit the “excessive use of wine or any fermented liquors.” The following year, they adopted the principle of total abstinence. [3]

I would imagine that Norwalk also formed a temperance society about this time, but the earliest record I have of one is the formation of The Sons of Temperance in 1847. [4] This group got off to a good start, and by the time of the Civil War had over seven hundred members. But that war, coupled with a financial crisis that followed, caused interest to flag. In 1876, The Sons of Temperance gave up their meeting hall and suspended weekly meetings. A few members did not give up the fight, though, and continued to gather monthly in private homes. There persistence paid off, and over the next few years their numbers again began to increase.

wtcu-logoA renewal in interest in the temperance movement was also taking place around the country in the 1870s, and Ohio was among those states in the forefront of the movement. In 1873, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U) was founded in Hillsboro, Ohio, and quickly grew to be an international organization. The goals of the W.C.T.U were not limited to the prohibition of alcohol, but also included women’s suffrage, and other progressive movements of the time.

At the close of the 19th Century, a new movement was established that anti-saloon_league_logo-211x96had the narrow goal of prohibition, the Anti-Saloon League. Organized in 1894, they soon became the most powerful prohibition lobby in America, eclipsing other groups such as the W.C.TU. They focused on legislation, using pressure politics, and the power of the pulpit, as they did in three churches on Sunday, January 14, 1907, to push their agenda.

So, when Harriott Wickham predicted that Norwalk would go dry–she was most likely thinking of the efforts of the Anti-Saloon League.





[1] This diary entry is from the unpublished 1910 to 1913 diary of Harriott Wickham which i have in my possession. The phrase “maybe I wasn’t,” was apparently slang meant to ironic. Harriott used it several times in this diary.

[2] “Memoirs of Townships – Lyme,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume II, Number 1, pages 24-25.

[3] “Memoirs of Townships – Portland,” The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Volume I, Number 3, pages 24-25.

[4] W.W. Williams, History of the Firelands, page 149-


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