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A union by temperance

by Aunt Clara –

Aunt Clara’s mother, Matilda, would not have approved of the recent push to legalize marijuana. She was a proud and active member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and devoted herself to positive reform based on Christian principles. She became an activist after her father was run down and killed by an inebriated wagon driver with six mules. Abolishing alcohol became her life’s mission.

Mother always used her powers for good, founding a mission for errant girls, a Sunday school and a temperance reading room. Before she founded the reading room almost all meetings and social gatherings were held in inns and public houses. Men would go to a meeting, drink a few pints and accomplish nothing. The temperance rooms were places where people of high moral character could go to discuss important issues without dealing with inebriated speakers.

Mother supported the WCTU White Life for Two program where men would reach women’s higher moral standing — and thus become woman’s equal — by engaging in lust-free, alcohol-free, tobacco-free marriages. My father had his last taste of liquor the night before he married Matilda when she spoke those sweet words of love, “Lips that touch wine will never touch mine.”

Soon prohibition was born. Mother worked tirelessly to close down the “Blind Pig” establishments, places where one could pay to see an attraction, such as a blind pig, and get a free drink. This way alcohol was not being “sold.”

Mother was also part of the group that tried to have all references of alcohol removed from the Bible and to ensure that real wine was not used in communion. “Surely God cannot live in an alcoholic beverage,” mother surmised.

Her greatest accomplishment was tying prohibition to fighting World War I. Matilda succeeded in winning wartime bans on strong drink by arguing that barley used in brewing beer could be made into bread to feed American soldiers and war-ravaged Europeans. Even with mother’s best efforts wine was still permitted for religious purposes (the number of questionable rabbis and priests soon skyrocketed.) Drugstores were allowed to sell “medicinal whiskey” to treat everything from toothaches to the flu. With a physician’s prescription, “patients” could legally buy a pint of hard liquor every ten days. This pharmaceutical booze often came with seemingly laughable doctor’s orders such as “take three ounces every hour for stimulant until stimulated.”

Bootleggers produced millions of gallons of bathtub gin and rotgut moonshine during Prohibition. This illicit hooch had a famously foul taste, and those desperate enough to drink it also ran the risk of being struck blind or even poisoned. Quinine and methyl alcohol tainted booze killed hundreds of poor drinkers but mother wanted to continue standing strong. President Roosevelt felt differently and when the 21st Amendment was ratified he stated, “What Americans need now is a stiff drink.” Mother was appalled at his weakness but her cries went on deaf ears. The depression had left the government coffers bare and Roosevelt needed those alcohol tax dollars to get the country moving again.

Father did go out and get drunk the day prohibition was repealed. Everyone thought that Matilda would make his life not worth living, but the next day they were seen holding hands in the park and mother had a huge smile on her face. Come to find out, Father did come home drunk and vomited all over the bathroom after breaking a lamp when he fell down. When mother tried to clean him up he adamantly exclaimed, “Get away from me lady, I have the best woman in all the world waiting for me at home!”


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