Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Temperance Songs in American School Songbooks, 1840-1860

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Temperance Songs in American School Songbooks, 1840-1860

Article excerpt


School songbooks from the pioneering period of music education in the United States (1838-1861) served an important purpose, bridging the years from the introduction of music in the public schools to the time when music series books were well established and providing both song material and rudimentary music instruction. Hundreds of songbook titles were published and millions of copies were sold. Music supervisors often published their own songbooks, consisting of carefully planned lessons. These books primarily utilized the movable "do" system and often included song material focused on nature and social life. (1)

From its introduction in the 1830s, public school music was often defended on moral ground as expressed in The Manual of the Boston Academy of Music:

   We can affect moral character, only through the medium of the
   feelings. When they are interested, the attention can be fixed, and
   the mind turned to the most important truths. Most of our feelings
   are habitual, and connected with our ordinary associations.... No
   instrument for this purpose is more powerful than vocal music. (2)

Mark and Gary note that the school songbooks that followed "were frequently designed to impart secularized lessons drawn from Protestant Christian morality," (3) and Gustafson also acknowledges the role these early songbooks played in civilizing and socializing children by focusing on moral and social issues including temperance reform. While modern readers may find it surprising that temperance songs would have any place in school songbooks, lyrics focused on temperance reform and other social issues of the day were designed to help shape future citizens. (4)

Although sources note the presence of temperance songs in school songbooks, little research has been done on how frequently this occurred and which themes of the temperance movement were present in the song lyrics. However, previous sources suggest that the period from 1840 to 1860 marks both the first phase of school music instruction in the United States and the emergence of popular temperance song literature. This study explores the inclusion of temperance songs in school songbooks during this period, noting dominant temperance themes and other related issues.

Brief Summary of Early Temperance Reform

Like the early stages of public school music instruction, the temperance movement was strongly influenced by Christian morality. The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, better known as the American Temperance Society (ATS) was founded at Park Street Church in Boston in 1826 by a group of evangelical clergymen. In its early years, the ATS embraced a pledge of abstinence from distilled spirits, but a more restrictive pledge, one of "teetotalism" or abstinence from all intoxicating beverages, contributed to the decline of that organization in the late 1830s. Also, in the late 1830s, the temperance movement began to shift from "moral suasion" as a reform tactic toward "coercion." Moral suasion was a nineteenth-century term referring to reform efforts that appealed to the emotions and intellect of the drunkard while coercion utilized force and legal means such as licensing laws or prohibition to control the alcohol problem. Several counties in Massachusetts enacted laws to prohibit the sale of alcohol, and other laws prohibiting or limiting the sale of alcohol were enacted in Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Mississippi. (5)

In 1840, a new organization was formed when a group of reformed drinkers established the Washingtonians at a Baltimore tavern. The Washingtonians based membership in their organization on personal abstinence and utilized moral suasion as their primary means to induce others to give up alcohol. Music played a prominent role in Washingtonian meetings, both group singing and performances by professional singers, and the first popular temperance songs began to appear in print during this time. …

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