The Temperance Movement
Frameworks for America's Past
Return to Originating Page

The Temperance Movement

   The temperance movement was a widespread effort by many people during the 1800s and early 1900s to reduce the consumption of alcohol. 

   Many in the movement wanted an outright ban on all alcoholic drinks, including beer, wine, and hard liquor.  They saw alcohol as a source of social problems including violence, crime, and poverty.

   The political cartoon shown on the right is from a weekly magazine in 1874.  It shows the view that most people in the movement had of bars, saloons, and taverns that served alcohol. 

   Notice that the bartender is the figure of Death.  In a back room there is a drunken fight, with one man swinging a bottle.  Just outside the door are two children, perhaps pleading for their father to come back home. 

   The damage done to families by alcohol drinking was one of the main arguments used by leaders in the temperance movement.

Saloons were common in cities

(the common term for bars at that time) were usually places for men only in the 1800s and early 1900s.  They could be fancy places in big cities, or rickety wood  buildings in a Western town.  However the saloons looked, their customers considered them as a kind of men's social club where they were welcome and could relax with friends.

The movement was well organized

The temperance movement became very well organized by the late 1800s.  It drew much of its energy from preachers like the one shown here.  He has drawn a crowd in the street by speaking out against alcohol in front of a saloon.  The temperance movement was also called the anti-saloon movement.

A tragic story told in pictures

The drawing below is one of a series of prints put out by a temperance group.  It shows a family being ruined by the father's drinking.  In this scene, a drunk husband loses control of himself and kills his wife.  While drawings like this were sometimes overly dramatic, it is certainly true that alcohol often created serious problems in many families.  (As any police officer can tell you, it still does today.)

A national meeting

By the 1890s the movement to ban or limit alcohol was holding national conventions (meetings) of temperance leaders from all over the country.  The photo below is from 1892.

The 18th Amendment banned alcohol

In 1917 the U.S. Congress voted to propose an Amendment to the Constitution to ban the making, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages.  The proposal was approved by the states, and the 18th Amendment took effect in 1920. 

   The ban was ignored by large numbers of people, however, especially in the nation's big cities.  Smugglers kept an illegal supply of alcohol going all through the years of Prohibition.  In 1933 the 18th Amendment was repealed (removed), and alcoholic beverages were legal once again in the U.S.

Photos and images, except for the 18th Amendment, are from Library of Congress.
 The 18th Amendment is from the National Archives.
Some images have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2012 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.