First Draft Follies: The "Women's Crusade" of the 1870s, Part Two

Part One --- Part Two --- Part Three 

Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. The material here is presented "as is" from the first draft of the book that became Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets -- [like this] -- for clarification. When the material is lengthy, I break it into several parts; this is part two of three. The setting here is the early 1870s, when the American temperance movement, which had been derailed by the Civil War, regrouped and renewed its efforts to eliminate alcohol in the United States.


And so it went in another nine hundred towns in thirty-one (out of thirty-seven) states and the District of Columbia. The tens of thousands of marchers met with but limited success and may have done the cause more harm than good: most men were hostile, and many of the women played to type, thereby reinforcing the common view among men idea that a woman’s place was in the home. “It is easy enough to conquer a man, if only you know how,” one crusader explained.

I wish you could see me talking to some of these saloon men that I would never have spoken to before; I employ my sweetest accents; . . . I look into their eyes and grow pathetic; I shed tears, and I joke with them--but all in terrible earnest. And they surrender. (*1)

The hypocrisy left a bad taste in the mouth of an Ohio man.

“It is a little amusing,” he commented, “to hear one of these women talk to ‘their man’ as they have him cornered behind his bar, and to see how he takes to talk of that sort.”

He listened to one crusader as she “opened out her battery of words,” telling the proprietor that she “loved” him and “always had.”

“I’ll venture a treat,” the man scoffed, “that this same woman never thought of this poor devil of a saloon-keeper before, and if she had met him on the street . . . she would not have spoken to him.” (*2)

Still, there was no doubt that the crusaders placed themselves in real danger. In some communities minor riots erupted and mobs attacked the women. At a march in Pittsburgh, hecklers jeered and threw rocks, paint, eggs, bricks, and beer at the women. One man used a horsewhip to rescue his wife from the crowd.

In Plano, Illinois, the occupants of a saloon removed themselves to the second floor of the building and dumped “the contents of baser toiletware” on the crusaders below. (*3)  In one town, a man exposed himself to a group kneeling for sidewalk prayer.


*1: Blocker, ‘Give to the Winds Thy Fears’: The Women's Temperance Crusade, 1873-1874 (Greenwood Press, 1985), 43.

*2: Ibid. *3: Ibid., 60.