Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Suffrage, Temperance, and the Great War

A hundred years ago, the United States was fighting a war in Europe, and the country was moving--slowly but inexorably--toward granting women the right to vote. In November 1917, New York had joined eleven other states that already permitted women to vote in state and local elections. The increased role of women during the war in matters outside the home gave new impetus to the suffrage movement. On October 1, 1918, a month before the war ended, President Woodrow Wilson declared his support for suffrage, telling the Senate, "I regard the extension of suffrage to women as vitally essential to the successful prosecution of the great war of humanity in which we are engaged." 

Another issue of public concern a hundred years ago was temperance. Many of the great suffragists were also active in the temperance movement. In 1852, four years after the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the New York State Women's Temperance Society. Anthony, who visited Hudson three times during in life to speak on the topic of woman suffrage at the Hudson Opera House, also spoke in various places around the county on the subject of temperance.

An item discovered in the Columbia Republican for January 15, 1918, suggests how the temperance movement insinuated itself into the war effort.

The Methodist Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church were especially zealous about temperance. In 1917, the latter's Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals published The Cyclopedia of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals. It was the third such book produced by the board. Complimentary copies of the previous editions had been sent to every Methodist preacher in the world and to the editor of every daily newspaper in the United States. The following is quoted from the cyclopedia's entry for "Army":
Since the abolition of the canteen in the army by act of Congress approved February 2, 1901, the morals and health of the soldiers have shown a distinct advance, and at the present time it is probable that the sobriety of army men is considerably above the average of civilians. During the Spanish War the canteen was in full blast, soldiers were detailed, willingly or unwillingly, to act as bartenders, and disease ran riot. Conditions were so scandalous that various temperance organizations conducted a notable congressional fight, resulting in the abolition of the army bar. Annual appropriations aggregating more than $4,000,000 have been made since the canteen was abolished for the establishment of permanent recreation halls which have schools, libraries, lunch, amusement rooms, and gymnasiums. Before that time no appropriations for this purpose had been made. . . .
The mobilization of the national guard in 1916 showed the excellent results of a no-drink policy. Every effort was made to keep drink away from the soldiers, and splendid success was achieved. A typical order is that of the New York division, who were instructed as follows:
"Officers and enlisted men of this division are directed not to use or have in their possession alcoholic drinks in any form during their service on the border except on prescription of a medical officer in the line of duty. Soldiers are prohibited entering houses of prostitution and saloons where liquors is sold except under orders for the performance of duty."
An excerpt from a chapter called "Fighting Boredom: Life at Camp Wadsworth," in a history of the camp discovered while preparing Sunday's update on the fortunes of Hudson's Company F, describes how temperance was encouraged in training camps during World War I.  
The United States government considered boredom to be one of the foremost enemies of soldiers in the training camps. It was feared that a soldier who was not properly entertained and morally educated would succumb to temptations of drink and debauchery. In order to prevent this, civilian and military officials sought to create a wholesome environment within each training camp that would keep the soldiers both mentally and physically healthy. The YMCA, YWCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, and the Red Cross were the key agencies in this crusade for morality. All of these organizations opened up facilities in the training camps, with the YMCA being by far the most important participant. Government officials hoped that the soldiers would patronize these organizations within the camp instead of visiting the town saloon or brothel. Alcohol was completely banned within a five-mile radius of all training camps.
Soon after the end of World War I, both the temperance and suffrage movements achieved their sought-after goals. Interestingly, temperance was first. In December 1917, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the sale, manufacture, and distribution of alcoholic beverages, passed the House and the Senate, and was ratified in January 1919, just two months after the armistice that ended the war. The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was passed in the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, was passed by the Senate on June 4, 1919, and was ratified in August 1920. Of course, the 18th Amendment was the only amendment to the Constitution ever to be repealed.

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