Mary Livermore's Temperance Work with Children

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Mary Rice Livermore was born in Boston on December 19, 1820. During her life she was a teacher, a, Civil War worker and women’s rights lecturer. She was also a vigorous advocate of the temperance cause. In her autobiography, she recalled the successful campaign for total abstinence in the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts in the early 1840s. She was then the principal teacher at a newly opened private coeducational school.

Transcription of Primary Source

The Washingtonian Total Abstinence Reform was inaugurated in Baltimore in 1840, by a club of six drinking men, who met regularly in a bar−room for a “roaring good time,” all going home

intoxicated, when their inebriety did not compel them to remain all night. A temperance address, to which all the club listened, led them to sign a pledge of total abstinence, and to commence a crusade against the almost universal drinking habits of the time. It spread like prairie fire,—temperance meetings were held everywhere,—temperance speakers multiplied,—temperance papers were established,—and the movement became phenomenal, and assumed tremendous proportions. Four−fifths of the drunkards of the country signed the pledge, and the reform had still a hold upon the people at the end of fifteen years of temperance work.

The town of Duxbury, like almost every town and city of New England, was brought under the spell of this mighty moral influence. A Total Abstinence Society was formed, that included most of the adult population, while a “Cold Water Army” was recruited from the children. Hon. Gershom Weston, the wealthiest and most influential man of the town at that time, was the president of the adult organization, and I was pressed into work for the children. It was the first temperance work of my life, in which I have continued to the present day. To maintain an interest among the little people, frequent meetings were necessary, which must be made attractive, with music and recitation and brief stirring speeches. Papers adapted to their comprehension were published, and books of juvenile temperance stories and songs were soon in circulation. I was placed on the editorial staff of a “Cold Water Army” paper published in Boston, and for two years shirked no duty demanded of me, although crowded with other work growing out of my profession. A compilation of the sketches I wrote for the paper was published in cheap, cloth covers, and was distributed broadcast. I sometimes meet a copy of the unpretentious booklet in some out−of−the−way locality.

On the Fourth of July the Cold Water Army came out in all its glory. The town held its celebration of the day in the pine woods, where the shade was grateful, the air fragrant and spicy, the carpet of pine needles thick under the feet, and where no one was crowded, so wide was the sweep of the amphitheatre of seats. The Army took on its largest proportions on that day, for the promise of the bountifully spread tables sure to be found in the grove on such occasions, drew the entire juvenile population into the ranks, and it marched into the woods with twice its ordinary numbers, resplendent with flags and many−colored banners, under the escort of a full−fledged band, all palpitating with expectancy.

Then what solemn re−pledging of the little ones to “total abstinence from all that intoxicates!” How vivid the contrast was made between the debauchee, with his tottering and diseased body and his enfeebled intellect, and the man who had never known the thraldom of strong drink! How the traditions of the town and the experience of the past were marshaled before them, to emphasize the unwisdom of yielding to appetite, and the certain ruin of the inebriate! Cui bono? was the question I asked myself when the day was ended, and I was too wearied with its fatigues to sleep. Will any good result from these efforts, and can these children be fortified against the temptations that are sure to meet them?

It did not prove fruitless work. Living to−day in my neighborhood are five men, now verging upon old age, who were boys in that Cold Water Army. Two were sons of intemperate fathers, two were the sons of widows, and one was motherless. The environments of all were unfavorable, and no restraining influence was thrown around them, save what came from that temperance organization of children. To the impressions there received, they attribute their escape from the seductions that enticed them in their early manhood. “We should have fallen by the way, as did other boys in our neighborhood, had we not been held by the Cold Water Army, during the unformed days of our young manhood,” is their uniform testimony. No good work is ever lost, and the heavenly seed that is sown will not betray our trust, but will, somewhere, sometime, bourgeon and blossom, and ripen to fruitage.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The Story of My Life
Mary Livermore
A. D. Worthington Co., Publishers
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village