Rival Temperance Conventions, 1853: Teaching strategy

Rival Temperance Conventions, 1853

Based on document project, "How Did the Rival Temperance Conventions of 1853 Help Forge an Enduring Alliance between Prohibition and Woman's Rights?" Documents selected and interpreted by John McClymer. 2012.

Link to document project.

Jessica Derleth
Binghamton University


In 1853 the American temperance movement briefly broke apart over intense disagreement about the activism of "strong minded women." These determined temperance women sparked controversy when they demanded they be allowed to work equally alongside men to limit the sale and consumption of alcohol. Though some men supported the involvement of women in the temperance movement, many more did not. The members of the World's Temperance Convention, who refused to allow the full participation of women reformers, did so for a number of reasons--ranging from a belief that female activists were "outraging the proprieties of sex" by becoming embroiled in political issues, to those who insisted that linking themselves to women's rights would scare potential supporters away from the temperance cause. Barred from a full role in the World's Temperance Convention, a group of women (along with a handful of male supporters) called for a competing Whole World's Temperance Convention open to all regardless of sex or race. Though this split in the temperance movement was temporary, these women played an important role in a much larger push for reforms concerning women's rights to property, child custody, and divorce. Studying this split allows students a greater understanding of both antebellum reform and debate over the danger or promise of women's rights activism.


  • Study the role of both women activists and conflict over women's rights within the American temperance movement in the 1850s.
  • Consider the role of religion and women within pro-temperance arguments.
  • Analyze the benefits and challenges of using newspapers as historical sources.

Lesson Ideas

1. Read documents 2, 7B (only the speech of Mrs. C.J. Nichols), 19B, and 22B. How do these authors link temperance and women's rights? Are there conditions that women and children are particularly vulnerable to? Do any of these documents seem to run counter to women's rights arguments? How would you situate these writings in the larger history of the women's rights movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth century?

2. Read document 18, Phoebe Patterson's letter to the editor of the New York Times. Why is Patterson opposed to women's rights? What does she believe is the role of women? How do Patterson's arguments compare to other arguments, from both men and women, against women's rights during the nineteenth century?

3. Read document 10, a detailed account of Reverend Antoinette L. Brown's temperance speech delivered in 1853. How does Brown connect scripture and Christian beliefs to temperance? How can we understand this type of activism in relation to the Second Great Awakening?

4. Imagine it is 1856 and this class is responsible for organizing next year's World's Temperance Convention. One of the challenges facing us as organizers of this convention is to decide the role women should take in planning, speaking at, and attending the temperance meeting. Divide the students into three groups: one in favor of allowing women full participation in all aspects of the conference, another group that believes women ought to be allowed a limited role, and another that insists women should not be present at the convention in any capacity. To plan the upcoming convention have students look back at newspaper articles and editorials from the 1853 World's Temperance Convention, which wrestled with these same debates: all students should read documents 1, 4B, 6, 21A, and 21C. Next, have the groups debate what the role of women ought to be for the next convention. In doing so, students ought to: present compelling arguments based on beliefs, social mores, and political views of the 1850s; anticipate the arguments of their opponents and develop counter arguments; directly respond to the arguments of the other two groups; and propose best practices for the 1856 World's Temperance Convention.

5. Compare newspaper coverage of a meeting on May 13, 1853 wherein temperance advocates discussed the planning of a World Temperance Convention: read document 4A, 4C, and 4D from the New York Times; and document 4B from the New York Daily Tribune. What are the similarities and differences in how the newspapers report on the meeting? How do they describe temperance ideologies? How do they describe the attendees and speakers? Do the newspapers appear sympathetic to or critical of the temperance movement? Does noticing these similarities and/or differences influence how you understand newspapers as primary sources?

6. Paper Prompt: Partisan loyalty often influences newspaper coverage, and opinions of reporters and editors can often be seen beyond the editorial page. Newspapers in the mid-nineteenth century often strove for some degree of factual accuracy as an increase in the popularity of newspapers led to a growing sense of professionalism. This does not, however, mean that newspapers lacked editorial bias. Newspapers, therefore, are useful yet complex primary sources that offer a combination of factual information and a window into the beliefs, values, and mores of an era. For this paper, students will analyze articles from three major newspapers that reported on temperance conventions in 1853: the consistently anti-reform Herald, the steadily pro-reform Tribune, and the anti-reform Times that was in direct economic and political competition with the Herald. Students may draw from the following newspaper articles: documents 6, 9c, 12a, 12b, 16, 21h, 21i from the Herald; documents 3, 4b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 10, 14a, 14b, 14c, 14d, 19a, 19b, 21f, 21g from the Tribune; and documents 4a, 4c, 4d, 4e, 7a, 7b, 7c, 9b, 13a, 13b, 13c, 13d, 17a, 17b, 18, 21a, 21b, 21c, 21d, 21e from the Times. Students ought to consider: how various newspapers reported on (or didn't cover) the same events; how the articles discussed the "who," "what," "when," "where," and "why" of an event; the language and tone of each article; the overt and subtle social and political perspectives represented in each article. Students must develop a unique argument about what comparing the news coverage of these historical events tells us about both the temperance movement and newspapers as a primary source.


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