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Singing the Dream: American Sheet Music at the British Library: Part 8

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

The Temperance Movement and Prohibition

In colonial America, informal social controls exerted both at home and in the community ensured that while alcohol was widely consumed, drunkenness was relatively rare. This situation changed dramatically during the first few decades of the new Republic. In response, numerous state-wide temperance associations - advocating moderate drinking rather than abstinence - were established. In 1826 the American Temperance Society was formed, and within ten years it claimed more than 8000 local groups and 1.5 million members.

During the next few decades many temperance organisations began stressing the need for abstinence rather than temperance. Their language became increasingly zealous, and the prohibition of alcohol became an issue in political campaigns.

Following a brief hiatus during the Civil War (1861-65), the movement once more picked up momentum. In 1869, the Prohibition Party was founded and in 1874 the Women's Christian Temperance Union was established with the watchwords "Agitate, Educate, Legislate". These organisations, together with numerous others, ensured that by 1905 three American states had outlawed alcohol. By 1912 this figure had risen to nine, and by 1916 legal prohibition was already in effect in 26 of the 48 states.

In 1920 national prohibition of the manufacture, sale and transport of alcohol was achieved with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and the start of the era we know today as "Prohibition".

Not surprisingly, attempts to get around the impositions of Prohibition were many and varied. Some people turned to home-brewing (although this could be a dangerous business); others were given prescriptions for whiskey by their doctors "for medicinal purposes"; and some visited "speakeasies", underground drinking establishments which could not be raided by the police. Many acquired alcohol independently via the black market and Prohibition became a boom-time for organised crime.

A decade later, in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt campaigned for the Presidency promising to overturn national prohibition. On 5 December 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, and President Roosevelt immediately issued a repeal Proclamation.

Dear Father, Drink No More: A Temperance Ballad

Dear Father, Drink No More: A Temperance Ballad 9kb
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Ackerman, G.M. Dear Father, Drink No More: A Temperance Ballad New York, 1847. H.1780.m.(1)
Copyright © The British Library

Many temperance songs focused upon the suffering endured by the loved-ones of those who drank. The child in this song first exhorts his father to: "Think of Mother's tears/How oft and sad they flow!/Oh, drink no more, then will her grief/No longer rack her so." He then asks: "Dear Father! Think what would become/Of me were you to die/Without a father, friend or home/Beneath the chilly sky." Moved by his son's fervent request for him to give up drinking, the father: "Signed the Pledge, he wept, he smiled!/And kissed the boy he loved."

 

I Heard My Wife Praying for Me.Temperance Song

I Heard My Wife Praying for Me.Temperance Song (8

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Jordan, Julian. I Heard My Wife Praying for Me.Temperance Song. Boston: O. Ditson Company, 1893. H.2607.(24)
Copyright © The British Library

Nearly fifty years after "Dear Father, Drink No More", this song echoes its sentiments and focuses upon the long-standing grief of a woman whose husband frequently drinks. This wayward husband explains to his friends that after staggering home following their drinking session the previous night, he found his wife praying for him while sitting alone in the dark. Remembering that in his marriage ceremony he had vowed to protect his wife, he determines to change his ways forever. In addition, he recommends that his drinking buddies do likewise since, almost certainly, "someone, somewhere" will be praying for them too.

 

Ever Since That Town of Mine Went Dry

Ever Since That Town of Mine Went Dry (12kb)
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Walker, Warren Raymond. Ever Since That Town of Mine Went Dry. New York: P.J. Howley, [1916]. H.3991.gg.(15)
Copyright © The British Library

The fictional town in this song went "dry" in 1909, when a "girl divine" informed the town's men that "lips that taste of liquor can't touch mine". At the next election, nearly every man in town voted dry in attempt to win this woman's heart. Shortly afterwards, however, the woman moved to Baltimore, leaving the residents looking "as if they'd like to cry"! However, when it comes to finding alcohol it seems that where there's a will there's a way, thus: "At the huskin' bee they still play the fiddle/Serve pink tea with a kick in the middle/Ever since that town of mine went dry."

 

Prohibition Blues

Prohibition Blues (10kb)
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Bayes-Norworth, Nora. Prohibition Blues. New York: Jerome H. Remick, 1919. H.3989.h.(3)
Copyright © The British Library

In this song, the protagonist asks her man what has made him look like he is about to "bust right out and cry". In response he explains: "I've had news that's bad news about my best pal/His name is Old Man Alcohol, But I call him Al/The doctors say he's dyin', As sure as sure can be/And if that's so, Then oh, oh, oh, The difference for me/There won't be no sunshine, No stars, No moon/No laughter, no music, except this one sad tune/Goodbye forever to my old friend Booze/Dog-gone I've got the Prohibition Blues."

Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10


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