Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric

Article excerpt

Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric. By Carol Mattingly (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998. Pp. xv, 213, Illustrations, notes, $34.95).

Any mention of the Women's Christian Temperance Union to well-educated Americans will likely evoke either embarrassed grins or thinly-disguised derision. The organization, founded (and still headquartered) in Evanston to promote temperance, is usually viewed by historians as part of a turn-of-the-century conservative movement that was complicit in the internalized oppression of women. In Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric, English Professor Carol Mattingly shows that the women who participated in the temperance movement were intelligent and pragmatic strategists who, in the long run, contributed more to improve the lives of women than their more radical counterparts.

The temperance campaign was the largest movement of women in the nineteenth-century, far outnumbering that of the suffrage organizations. And its leaders, including Frances Willard of the W.C.T.U., brought about substantial improvements in women's situations, despite the ultimate failure of the long-sought-after Prohibition Amendment. Its proponents also raised the age of sexual consent for women in many of the states, changed divorce and equal-pay laws, and fought along with other women's groups for the passage of the Suffrage Amendment. One is, therefore, left to wonder why the women of the W.C.T.U. have not been given credit for the totality of their efforts.

Mattingly convincingly argues that the temperance leaders consciously and clandestinely used their popular cause (the elimination of alcohol from society) to appeal to the "average" women of America so that they would support the more radical reforms. …

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