During the period between 1900 and the 1940s the United States went through a time of growth and change in ideas about social morality. One of the challenges that America had to face was whether to allow alcohol to be sold or to prohibit it. Many Protestant evangelical denominations, including the Mennonite Brethren, called for the prohibition of alcohol, although they were not the only ones who wished to see the alcohol sales in the United States stopped. Others grouped together in the temperance movement with the goal to see that prohibition would be passed. The Mennonite Brethren would have supported the Temperance movement because both groups shared similar beliefs on the negative effects of alcohol consumption for both individuals and the nation. They also shared some of the same methods in trying to stop the effects of alcohol from happening.

The Mennonite Brethren and Temperance movements in the United States both supported Prohibition for many of the same reasons. The evidence stated in this paper will be reasons that both groups wanted to stop the selling of any beverage that contains alcohol. One reason for prohibition is that some temperance movements saw alcohol like a tree; from one drink of alcohol, more questionable decisions will arise, much like the branches of the tree spread from the trunk. This is interpreted to be an illustration of the problem the effects of alcohol has on individual morality and that both the Temperance movements and the Mennonite Brethren agree that this needs to be addressed when it comes to the problem of alcohol. A second reason that both groups supported prohibition is to focus on the effects on children that were caused by those who used the drink. It is the concern for the progression of moral degeneration that this paper will discuss first.

Individual Morality and Drunkenness:

The first theme that both temperance groups exhibited is that they both were concerned with helping the people who had become drunkards. Out of the two groups, it is the Mennonite Brethren who were more likely to try to clean up the person and to help change their ways before completely demanding that the sale of alcohol must stop; this a very important difference between the two groups. This is not to say that Temperance groups did not try to do the same thing, but rather that some of the Temperance groups, such as the WCTU (the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement), focused more on the women who felt the aftereffects of having a husband who was a drunkard and thus supported total prohibition. This is one of the major differences between the Temperance movement and the Mennonite Brethren; the Mennonite Brethren tended to be concerned no matter who it is that is affected by alcohol and yet the theme of individual morality developed by the frontier churches paralleled women’s concern with temperance.1 This idea of individual morality is one of the themes that helps tie the Mennonite Brethren and the Temperance movement together. This theme is important to both groups because they needed to focus on individuals before they could start to clean up the entire nation and both groups realized that this needed to happen first. They also knew that temperance at a personal level was required before national temperance could be achieved.

One way that some of the Mennonite Brethren tried to help change the drinking habits of those who drank are that they would use several different verses in the Bible to show that the Bible condemned drinking excessively. Some of these verses that were used by the Mennonite Brethren are Ephesians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Romans 14:21. The first verse says that we should not get drunk on wine but to be filled by the Holy Spirit; this shows a very clear point in which the Bible condemns getting drunk. The second group of verses in 1 Corinthians states that those who are drunkards will not inherent the kingdom of God and finally, the verse from Romans says that it is better not to drink wine if it will cause a brother to fall. By showing that the Bible banned the over-consumption of alcohol, some of the Mennonite Brethren hoped that it would be enough to convince those who have a problem with drinking that they needed to follow what the Bible teaches about drinking. The Mennonite Brethren made sure that the Bible was the main authority from which they drew their conclusions that drinking was bad for the moral values that every man has. When it came to men, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union focused on making husbands and brothers who were heavy drinkers into better husbands and brothers by having the men pledge to never drink again. Even though the WCTU has religious background, they did not use the Bible to try to correct a person’s drunkenness in the same way that the Mennonite Brethren did but they did use their religious backgrounds to help push their reforms into practice.

Family and children’s safety:

A figure that linked the temperance unions and the Mennonite Brethren Church’s ideas on prohibition was Williams Jennings Bryan. Bryan was a political leader who would later be known for the defending of the Christian stance of creationism against evolution in the Scopes trial of 1925; before that he was a defender and supporter of prohibition. He said that the man who opposes the sale of liquor is asking nothing for himself except relief from injury at the hands of the others, while the man who insists upon the sale of liquor is asking something for himself which cannot be granted without injury to others.2 The concern for people’s safety is a main concern between the Temperance movements, others who support prohibition and the Mennonite Brethren. Jennings was concerned with the way that alcohol and the selling of alcohol affected a person’s rights; in this case, the rights that Jennings is concerned with are the physical safety and wellbeing of a person. He is also concerned with the idea that those who are drunk may hurt others and it is this concern that the Mennonite Brethren share as well, especially when it comes to the safety of children.

The safety of children is a very important idea to all of the groups that promoted prohibition. One way that was easy to discern is that when a group would talk about the effects of alcohol, they would release articles that would target children in particular. One such article from The Christian Leader, a Mennonite Brethren magazine, featured a poem called A bad key [whiskey] that compared whiskey to something that kids would recognize, such a key. This poem told kids that whiskey is one key kid’s should not try because: it locks out health, wealth, honor, goodness, salvation; everything that makes people happy and useful. Then it lets in disease, poverty, crime, misery, disgrace, death and everything that spoils people’s lives.3 By comparing it to another object that kids would be more likely to recognize, the author gave the kids examples on why they should avoid whiskey all together.

The National Temperance Society also published a series of articles that warned children about how wine and alcohol can sneak up on a person and that person may not see the effects of the alcohol starting to affect them until it is too late. The main article is titled Beware; this article tells a poem about birds and a snake who is slowly creeping up to them so he can devour them; It is madness, sweet birds to remain: And yet there are people who think, Yet are charmed to destruction like you, by a serpent who lurks in the drink.4 The moral of this poem is for kids to be aware of alcohol and its effects because the effects may not be present right away. It seems that when talking to children about a serious issue, such as the consumption of alcohol, the way to make sure that the point is easy for children to understand is to compare it with an object that children can relate to. Because of the existence of such poems and articles like Beware, the Mennonite Brethren would have likely supported the temperance movement because these articles show that the Temperance movement was concerned with some of the same effects that alcohol had on people .

The Mennonite Brethren not only had poems for children to understand why it is not good for them to drink, but they also published articles for parents and adults on why it is not good for children to be in homes where at least one of the parents drunk liquor. An article in The Christian Leader explains some of the affects that alcohol has on children: 1. Liquor limits their social time, 2. Children who have at least one parent who is a drunkard will be denied jobs, and 3. The children will meet outside of their homes because of their parent who is drunk and this can lead up to many more issues for the parents to deal with later on. This author states that the only solution is Christ and salvation; this is the only way that children will be able to enjoy the opportunities that they need in order to live in a healthy home.

Others from the temperance movement also wrote about what happens to children when they are in a home that is intemperate. One author, Mary Skinner, in her essay titled Children and the Drinking Problem discussed the problems that children of her day were having when it came to understanding the uses of alcohol. Some examples from her essay are that children were coming into contact with alcohol through advertisements and were becoming so used to the physical effects of liquor that they were [acting] funny like a drunk man5; they had seen people who were drunk so often that they were starting to think that their behavior was normal and acceptable to imitate. After listing some more ways that children were coming in contact with alcohol, Skinner gives advice to her readers on how to help solve the problem of alcohol with children and surprisingly, her advice has a Christian ideal to it just like the article in The Christian Leader. One of her pieces of advice to parents is that to help a child with the problem of alcohol, the reader needs to understand that each child has a different situation and that as Christians; the readers need to say that they will still support the child, no matter what decisions he or she makes in the future. Another way that she tells parents to help is to participate in any community event that is trying to remove the problem of liquor. This tie to the Christian faith shows another reason that the Mennonite Brethren would support the temperance movement and the ways that they tried to battle the effects of alcohol, especially because Skinner suggests that the community should come together and work out the problems as a group; this is important to the Mennonite Brethren faith because they believe firmly in the community. Alcohol hurts the communities because it can destroy families and thus make the community weaker. When it comes to the Mennonite Brethren, they lived and depended on their communities to support each other and when one family was not able to help support the other families, it was time for the community to come together to try to help those families in need.

Pushing and supporting the Prohibition laws:

This next section will talk about the reasons why both groups supported the Prohibition laws. The safety of children and families plus the concern for individual morality helped both of these groups to push for prohibition but there are other reasons why they supported Prohibition as well. One other reason that temperance movements would support prohibition is that they saw it as the government’s job to control alcohol and to promote prohibition. According to J.E. Stebbins, this was needed because we need a civil government, simply because in the social state we are exposed to injury from the evil-minded.6 Stebbins speaks not for individual safety here but for the safety of the whole country. This quote also shows that the Temperance movement expected the government to do its part to protect its citizens from harmful things, including the social evil that comes from alcohol consumption. This notion of citizenship is one reason that the Mennonite Brethren supported Prohibition as well; around the 1920s, Prohibition was seen as a civic duty7 that all citizens of the United Sates should perform. Around this time the Mennonite Faith had established itself in the United States and so some of them, such as the Mennonite Brethren, were trying to fit into the culture and to prove that they were American in a time when those from Germany were not trusted thanks to World War I. During World War I, the main enemy of the Allies was Germany and many of the Mennonite Brethren had come to the United States from Germany and many did not speak English. Because they did not speak English at first, many in the United States saw this language barrier as a sign that the Mennonite Brethren were supporting Germany and were thus un-American. This is why the Mennonite Brethren were trying to fit into the culture of the United States. In fact, because they were trying to fit in with the rest of the country, in the eyes of the early Mennonite Brethren, any rejection of the temperance movement and prohibition was seen as improper by other Christian groups. This idea of becoming American helped them push for State rights as well. Going back to William Jennings Bryan’s article, he points out that the reason that the Prohibition amendment would pass is because those in Congress knew that their States were pushing for it. Another author, James H. Timberlake suggests that one of the reasons that Protestant groups supported Prohibition is because of the rights that Americans have, such as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All of this connects back to the idea of being a citizen in the United States and it is a big reason for the Mennonite Brethren to have supported the Temperance movement.

One book that is about Temperance and Prohibition is The Politics of Moral Behavior and it a collection of essays that have been written on different moral issues, including alcohol and prohibition. The first article that is of importance is The Religious Argument by James H. Timberlake. One of the arguments that he makes is that the Protestant church supported temperance because in temperance it found a vice that made this work [saving souls] difficult, if not impossible8. This reason would have been supported by the Mennonite Brethren because they tried to change people who became drunkards because they saw that alcohol was a threat to the morality of individuals. Another point that Timberlake makes is that evangelical Protestant churches, which includes the Mennonite Brethren, refrained from saying that drinking alcohol is wrong; maybe that was true in some cases but not all Protestant churches agreed for there were some in the Mennonite Brethren faith who talked out against it. One essay that I read was by a woman named Tina Shultz who said that It [liquor] is this ulcer which threatens to ruin our prosperous country9. This quote shows that many thought that alcohol needed to be dealt with by stopping the selling of it in the United States because, in their eyes, it was ruining the country and many of the Mennonite Brethren faith may have agreed with this statement. It is interesting to see that Timberlake also brings up the American ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a part of the reasons that Protestants supported Prohibition. These rights that Timberlake brings up in his essay became a big deal when others started to talk about the possible passing of the Prohibition amendment and more about a person’s rights as an American Citizen. These rights became the more central issue of the debate on whether the amendment should be passed or not. Also, the debate that was created because of these rights goes back to not only the physical effects of alcohol but what it did to a person morally.

An essay that goes more into more detail about the rights that American Citizens have is titled Why I support Prohibition by William Jennings Bryan that was mentioned earlier in this paper. In his essay, Bryan talks about how the prohibition amendment was about states’ rights more than anything else. He mentions that the amendment would only be passed because those in Congress would vote for it if their states wanted the prohibition amendment to be passed. States’ rights are one of the main reasons for prohibition in Bryan’s eyes. It also shows that States rights were a major part of the fight for prohibition because congress knew that even if they did nothing to support prohibition, the people of the individual states could still vote within their states to make their states dry. States’ rights were very powerful and played a major part in the passing of the Prohibition amendment. In another essay titled Prohibition and States rights Hubert D. Stephens went before congress and explained why he agreed that the prohibition amendment needed to be passed and how it is not a question of temperance but of who had the power to create laws that would directly affect the people. Stephens says that It is merely a question as to whether you are going to substitute for the authority of your State to enforce its laws against your own people the authority of the Federal Government that may or may not be in sympathy with the sentiment, the character and history of your people10. It is interesting that Stephens in this quote is making prohibition not about alcohol or Temperance but about what rights that people have as American citizens.

This idea of States’ Rights and Nationalism is a theme that I keep on finding within the readings that I have looked at for this project. Another book that talks about this topic is titled Fifty Years History of the Temperance Cause by J.E. Stebbins. Stebbins gives several examples of why alcohol consumption or intemperance as he puts it is damaging the nation as a whole. One of the main concerns that he gives is that intemperance damages the labor of the nation because it is well known that those addicted to intemperance are not fitted for the discharge of their ordinary duties in any direction11. By showing that many people knew that intemperance is dangerous; Stebbins gives an argument to show that temperance is necessary for the entire nation, not just for individual people; this take on nationwide prohibition shows why many people during this time were pushing for a prohibition amendment to be passed.

Mennonite Brethren, on the other hand, focus more on the individual person and families rather on states’ rights but they were concerned with the nation as the whole as well. In an article in The Christian Leader, the authors talk about how congress had repelled the prohibition act and how alcohol would curse the social, economic, moral and political life of America12. This shows that Mennonite Brethren were paying attention to the country as a whole as well as being concerned for individuals. The reason that the Mennonite Brethren were watching the rest of America is that they were trying to fit in with the rest of America and prove that they supported America and not Germany during World War I.

Literature Review

In today’s world, the Protestant evangelical church more than ever has been in the public eye, especially when it comes to the issue of gay/lesbian marriages. Starting in the 1880s and continuing well into the 1920s, the Protestant church was very much active in the entire nation as well, only with a different debate. This debate was over whether or not the government should issue a nationwide law that would prohibit the selling of alcohol and liquor. The involvement of religion in the creation and passing of a national law and how and why the Protestant churches were involved is a topic that historians today are discussing in their books about Prohibition. The involvement of these churches during this time period is unusual because of the separation of church and state; this is one of the reasons that the involvement of the churches in America during prohibition, needs to be studied more carefully. Also, the Prohibition period and the time period leading up to it helped women in America find their voice in the public sphere, for without women: the churches may or may not have had the strength that they had to push the nation into nationwide prohibition.

In her book written in 1963, Two Paths to Women’s Equality: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Origins of Modern Feminism, Janet Zollinger Giele explains the new ideology that the women of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union had come up with: Temperance women projected an image of their ideal roles and created a complementary imager of men… [These] new men…believed in a single moral standard for men and women13. In this way Giele explains that temperance women were pushing for equality between the sexes and in order to achieve this goal, they pushed for prohibition. Using prohibition and temperance as a way to gain equality is an unusual reason for national Prohibition. This is unusual because many authors write that temperance and prohibition were promoted to help clean up American society and to convert and clean up individuals. The way that women in the WCTU showed their support of the temperance movement was very religious in nature, such as holding prayer meetings and passing out Bibles. Giele goes on to say in her book that the temperance women pinned these problems [terrible working conditions for women, white slavery, cruelty to animals etc.] on a failure of social responsibility14. In this regard, Giele says that the women of the temperance movement were still very concerned with the social issues that were plaguing the country at the time.

Another author, Lori D. Ginzberg in her 1986 article titled Moral Suasion is Moral Balderdash: Women, Politics, and Social Activism in the 1850s states that the shift toward electoral politics coincided with the entrance of significant numbers of women into temperance work and the beginning of a long history of viewing temperance as a women’s issue15. This critique of the history of the temperance movement gives light to the fact that it was indeed women who pushed this movement; it also agrees with what Giele talked about when she expressed the goals of the WCTU, that they were trying to show that women are equal with men. Ginzberg is also pointing out that when historians talk about the temperance movement and prohibition they have to talk about women’s and gender history because without the women of the temperance movement, prohibition would never have happened. Not only does the temperance movement mean that women were involved, it has become associated with politics, especially with women’s suffrage. Ginzberg gives examples of women who not only counted on the Bible and what it had to say about drinking to save their husbands from liquor but they also counted on the law to make their husbands change their ways.

The WCTU is a group that Richard F. Hamm discusses as well in his book written in 1995. His book is titled Shaping the Eighteenth Amendment: Temperance Reform, Legal Culture, and the Polity, 1880–1920, Unlike Ginzberg who really focused on the women of the temperance movement and those who participated in the WCTU, Hamm focuses more on Prohibition and how different groups, from the WCTU to Prohibition radicals, went about spreading their message and the passing of the Prohibition Law. One of the first things that Hamm points out in his book is that those who were pushing for national Prohibition would use moral suasion as their reasoning for supporting the creation of the law. The idea of moral suasion is that the different groups that supported temperance would try to pressure the government to pass laws prohibiting the selling and consumption of alcohol by pointing out that it was bad for the individual moral when people started to drink. When it came to moral suasion and the passing of laws, the group of radical prohibitionists played an important part, according to Hamm.

This group of radical prohibitionists held views that came from a mixture of Christian-based beliefs and their beliefs that the programs of the 1870s and 1880s had failed to control alcohol. The temperance radicals saw it as their duty to come up with ways that would convince the government and individual States to pass the Prohibition amendment, especially because any kind of measures that had been taken to spread the temperance movement had failed in the past. The way that these radicals view the law is very interesting in itself and Hamm says that the Law represented the distillation of social conscience, which reflected God-given principles and thus functioned as a means to deliver moral messages16. In this quote, it seems that Hamm is saying that the temperance movements saw laws taking away from the moral values of the people and that the social conscience of the people is to understand the morals that God has given people to follow; this also shows once again that the temperance movement was trying to use the law to clean up the moral behavior of the nation and individual people. By bringing this idea of cleaning up moral behavior, Hamm is agreeing with other authors who have written on the subject of prohibition and temperance on the fact that the idea of individual moral and the preservation of it is the main idea that drove those who wanted the Prohibition laws to be passed into trying to help stop the selling of alcohol in the United States.

The next author who talks about this idea of individual morals as being one of the main reasons that people demanded prohibition is Michael McGerr. In his book A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920, written in 2003, McGerr starts off with talking about Carrie A. Nation. He says that Carrie A. Nation was nevertheless quite representative. Her smashings laid bare much of the logic and passion that spurred the progressive crusades to reshape adult behavior17. In this quote, McGerr is saying that not only did progressives’ and those who supported temperance want to reshape adult behavior, they were very passionate about what they are doing and Carrie A. Nation was a good example of showing just how passionate a person could get when something that they felt was very important was being threatened. In this way, McGerr is showing that the temperance movement was not only about the ways that temperance was achieved and why it was achieved, but that the people who were behind the Temperance and prohibition movement are very important too and that they should not be forgotten. This connects back to Giele because in her book, Giele talked about the women of the temperance movement, and in the light of McGerr’s book, the importance of why she talked so much about these women is apparent.

After introducing the reader to Carrie A. Nation, McGerr turns to the moral reasons for the temperance movement in the first place by explaining that women were often considered victims and so temperance became associated with women. This is also in agreement with what Giele had to say about the WCTU. It seems that McGerr is telling his audience that they must remember that this is an important in women’s history because not only did he say that women were considered victims, the first example he gave of a person from the temperance movement was a woman, thus showing that women are important to the temperance cause.

The last book in this literature review is titled Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement written by Joel L. Coker in 2007. This author decided to look at the Prohibition movement in the South and so he talks about the different ways that Southern Prohibitionists varied from their Northern counterparts. One of the big differences that Coker talks about is that the culture is very different in the South and so the Prohibitionists had to deal with the different problems that arose from Southern culture; for example, it was a social norm to offer a guest some kind of alcoholic drink and so Evangelical Prohibitionists had to risk breaking that social norm in order for temperance to work within the South. Coker says that the confluence of cultural drinking patterns and southern propensity toward violence made the existence of the saloon a particular threat to the community18. Drinking patterns, according to Croker, are a key component in understanding why Evangelicals during the Prohibition era would have seen the saloon as a reason to support total temperance. This idea of looking at the culture is something that none of the other authors in this literature review really looked at and so it seems that this concept is a newer one and it may be one that historians of the Prohibition era need to take more time to pay attention to.

This literature review has looked at the different ways that authors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries have examined the Temperance and Prohibition movements. Some authors, such as Janet Zellier Geile, looked at one movement in particular and talked about how Prohibition was a way that women were trying to gain equality with men. Others, such as Joel L. Coker, talked about the church in the south and why it is important for historians to examine not just the moral reasons for temperance support but also the cultural norms of the day as well. One thing seems very clear, that no matter whom the author is, women played a very important role in the temperance and prohibition movements and historians today need to remember that as they study this subject in history.


To wrap things up, the Mennonite Brethren supported the Temperance movement. This can be seen in several different areas of both groups’ beliefs about alcohol and liquor consumption. First, both groups were concerned with what alcohol and liquor did to a persons’ personal morality. The Mennonite Brethren and Temperance movement both went about different ways to try to help the individual person, but they had similar views on the subject. Not only did they care for individual morals but they were concerned for the wellbeing of children. The Mennonite Brethren were concerned with being seen as citizens of the United States and the wellbeing of the country as a whole. Similarly, others from the Temperance movement saw Prohibition as an issue not only for the Nation as a whole but for individual States as well. Looking at the evidence, it is safe to say that the Mennonite Brethren would have supported the Temperance Movement.