Women's Christian Temperance Union
Women's Christian Temperance Union, Wolcott, NY, ca 1905. Organized in 1877 with Mrs. O.P. Meeks, ...

One of the most widespread social problems of the 18th and 19th centuries was the use of alcohol. To combat this “evil”, the Temperance Movement began to form, however, it gained little ground until the early decades of the 19th century. At that time, alcohol consumption was a part of daily life. Whether it was a 4th of July celebration, a barn raising or harvesting a crop, liquor flowed freely. In fact, it was considered poor manners not to offer a drink. There were distilleries in almost every town and whiskey sold for as low as $.25 a gallon. It was even considered a part of the wages of workers on the Erie Canal. As more and more families came to ruin because of alcohol, temperance societies began to spring up throughout the country. Wayne County was no exception.

The Lyons Republican of April 20, 1865, listed the following announcement, “The friends of Temperance Conference at Presbyterian church in Lyons, May 2, 1865, Rev. Horace Eaton of Palmyra, speaker.”

On April 1, 1872, the Syracuse Journal printed this item, “The cause of temperance is triumphant in Wolcott. A Temperance Board has been elected, and for the coming year, people will have to drink water or go dry.”

Temperance speakers were very popular during this era. Sarah Mitchell Knapp, of Rose, notes the following in her diary:

Tuesday, October 9, 1877 – “…Dr. Bacon commences temperances meetings this evening at Rose Valley.”

Thursday, October 11, 1877 – “…I went to the lecture tonight. Dr. Bacon is a reformed drinker and does much good.”

Friday, October 12, 1877 – “Went…to the lecture this evening. What great crowds attend his meetings.”

Sunday, October 14, 1877 – “Attended a union [Women’s Christian Temperance Union] meeting of the church at Rose today. Dr. Bacon the temperance reformer led the meeting. Staid to Freds tonight and went to the temperance. Had terrible times there.”

Monday, October 15, 1877 – “Was much tried with Bacon last night. Br. Davis the M.E. minister and Bacon got into quite a quarrel. Hundreds of people were there. I did not attend this evening. They had torch light procession.”

Tuesday, October 16 1877 – “…Dr. Bacon talked pretty hard about Br. Davis. He is a mysterious man but is doing much good in the temperance cause.”

Wednesday, October 17, 1877 – “They have meetings in a tent since the disturbance at church….The people have settled up and come together again.

Thursday, October 18, 1877 – “Tonight closes Dr. Bacons labors at Rose. Dr. Neely has signed the pledge also Mr. Pimm, the hotel keeper. They had a bonfire and burned Pimms whiskey. Hundreds of people were there. The excitement was great.”

Friday, October 19, 1877 – “It is said that about 1500 hundred have signed the pledge in the village and surrounding country. Bacon called on a great many different persons to speak….”

Temperance Societies all had pledge cards to which people signed their names, pledging to abstain from using alcohol. There were pledges promising to use no alcohol whatsoever, and there were pledges “to abstain from all intoxicating liquors except for medicinal purposes and religious ordinances.” Those who pledged total abstinence placed a large “T” by their names. Thus the term “Tee Totaler” came into being.

The following temperance poem was written in 1853 by George W. Jackson of Sodus. It was composed in his youth when a student at Starkey Seminary, then called Palmer Institute:

“Ye friends of moderation, who think a reformation
Or moral renovation, would benefit our nation
Who deem intoxication with all its dissipation,
In every rank and station, the cause of degradation
Of which our observation gives daily demonstration,
Who see the ruination, distress and desolation
The open violation of moral obligation;
The wretched habitation without accommodation
Or any regulation for common sustentation,
A scene of deprivation unequalled in creation
The frequent desecration of Sabbath ordination –
The crime and depredation defying legislation
The awful profanation of common conversation
The mental aberration and dire infatuation
With every sad gradation to maniac desperation.

Ye who with consternation, behold this devastation
And utter condemnation on all inebriation
Why sanction its duration, or show disapprobation
Of any combination for its extirpation?
We deem a declaration that offers no temptation,
By any palliation of this abomination,
The only sure foundation for its utter extirpation
And under this persuasion held no communication
With noxious emanations of brewer’s fermentation,
Or poisonous preparation of spirits distillation,
Nor any vain libation producing stimulation.

To this determination we call consideration
And without hesitation invite co-operation
Not doubting invitation will raise your estimation,
And by continuation afford you consolation
For, in participation with this association
You may by meditation, insure the preservation
Of a future generation from all contamination
And may each indication of such regeneration
Be the theme of exultation, till its final consummation.”