Early St. Louis

5.28.2016

Sons of Temperance Movement in Missouri

While the area was governed by the Spanish, the sale of liquor was had been carefully controlled.  After the Louisiana Purchase, the social climate of the Missouri country changed and "a great many men bent on adventure, some of whom were depraved in character, came flocking in."   Men from all walks of life from merchants and traders to civilian and military officials indulged in drunkenness and gambling.

In the mid-1830s St. Louis was experiencing great growth and prosperity, which seemed good enough reason to drink and celebrate.  But the boom turned to bust by March of 1837 and businesses and banks began to fail.  Panic took hold in 1839 when the banks failed, and during that depressed and anxious state, St. Louisans spent $750,000 in liquor to ease their troubled minds.  It was if an epidemic of drunkenness had taken hold, and the cure was to temper the drinking.  A new law prohibiting the sale of liquor on Sunday was passed, and by 1842 several temperance groups had formed, with seventy-five hundred people in St. Louis pledging to abstain from alcohol

Prior to the Order's formation, there was one party primarily composed of reformed men who, while advocating moral suasion, denounced "all who had not passed through the fiery ordeal of drunkenness as unable and unworthy to take a prominent position in the movement."  The members of the other sect had united from conviction or impulse and were not invited into the ranks of those Washingtonians. Dipsomania was wreaking havoc in homes and for those who suffered its effects; there was no place to turn for assistance.  These of this opinion were "in favor of calling in the aid of the civil power to put down the evil."

The Sons of Temperance believed that the purpose and action of the two ought to be conciliated.  To fund relief, membership required dues to be paid, some of which would cover the burial of a member or their spouse, but it was later abolished.  Initially, their membership was restricted to men over the age of eighteen, but by the twenty-second Session women were admitted into full membership, and in time "colored" membership was allowed to organize independently.  All pledged to "Neither make, buy, sell nor use as a beverage, any spirituous or malt liquors, wine or cider."

The first meeting of the Sons of Temperance  was held on Thursday evening at Teetotaller's Hall on 71 Division Street in New York on the 29th of September, 1842.  But on a visit to St. Louis in the summer of 1844 Dr. Asa Spalding, a member of the Flushing Division in Long Island, New York, requested the opinion of Brother J. Vail on obtaining a charter for the Sons of Temperance in Missouri.  Finding the proposition favorable, they spent two months "under very discouraging circumstances" to persuade enough persons to sign the petition.  Brother Spalding then forwarded their petition to the National Division and a charter was granted on February 24, 1845.  Spalding’s poor health delayed the matter with the papers remaining in the hand of the Most Worthy Scribe until Spalding's death which occurred on the 22nd of October.

The Division was finally opened on May 5th of the following year by Brother John Phiphen of Cincinnati, Ohio as St. Louis Division, No. 1 and included fifteen applicants, of which only four were present, but eight eventually joined.  Those elected for the term included C.B. Parsons, William F. Chase, D.A. Magfhan, Henry Stagg, James S. Pool, Barnard Bryan and J. Woodman.

By October 1847 there were eighteen Subordinate Divisions and 1260 contributing members with the following officers elected: Barnard Bryan, Grand Worthy Patriarch; J.T. Temple, Grand Worthy Associate; W.H. Maurice, Grand Scribe; William S. Stewart, Grand Treasurer; P.E. Bland, Grand Conductor; John B. Higdan, Grand Chaplain; and Charles G. Gill, Grand Sentinel.

A year later, at the opening of the Grand Division there were about six hundred contributing members in Missouri. By 1887 the Local Option Law allowed communities to determine for themselves whether liquor was to be sold.  In 1917 of the 114 counties, 85 were dry and 14 were partially so.  The city of St. Louis remained "wet."  There were also 16 wet cities in dry counties and four dry cities in wet counties with all of the wet counties, except two, lying along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.  The constitutional amendment prohibiting the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors in Missouri was submitted in 1910 and in 1916.  Both times it was defeated.

The ramifications of prohibition tempered the crusade, but the temperance movement did not die out entirely.  The concept was the precursor of such organizations as Alcoholics Anonymous, and traces of the temperance movement in St. Louis can be seen in such places as the Assisted Recovery Centers of America's Transitional Living Program which is in service today and shares the same mission and requirements as the Sons of Temperance.


SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL READING:

  1. Assisted Recovery Centers of America's Transitional Living Program 
  2. Book of Degrees of the Order of the Sons of Temperance of North America, Press of P.G.W. P.J. Young, Baltimore, 1854
  3. Cary, Samuel, Fenton, Historical Sketch of the Order of the Sons of Temperance: An Address Delivered at the Fortieth Annual Session of the National Division, Held at Halifax, N.S. in July, 1884
  4. Davidson-Peters, Patricia, T.A. Moore, Sons of Temperance, PDP's Roots & Branches, 2016
  5. Ellis, Samuel, The History of the Order of the Sons of Temperance, from Its Organization ..., Boston, 1848
  6. Methodist Episcopal Church. Wilmington Conference Press of the Stowell Printery, 1902 - Methodist Church
  7. Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Years 1773-1881, 1880
  8. Van Ravenswaay, Charles, St. Louis: An Informal History of the City and Its People, 1764-1865Missouri History Museum, 1991