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February 1, 2011 > History: Temperance

History: Temperance

Temperance societies were organized across the United States in the early 1800s to combat the problems created by abuse of alcoholic beverages. The first sign of the temperance movement in our area was in 1855 when Reverend W. W. Brier organized the Sons of Temperance, called the Alameda Division, in his Centerville study. The Sons were part of a national movement battling social evils and promoting total abstinence from liquor.

A Sunday law that required the closing of saloons on the Sabbath was adopted in 1873. At first the law was observed, but in a few months, it was disregarded and business went on as usual.

The California legislature passed a local Option Law in 1874 that permitted the people of a township to determine by vote whether the sale of liquor should be licensed in the township or not. The law required that when a petition with the names of one-fourth of the legal voters of a township was presented to the Board of Supervisors, they had to call an election.

The first petition in Alameda County came from Washington Township, signed by 270 people. An election was ordered for May 22, allowing one month for preparation. There were three or four temperance organizations and about 25 saloons in the township. The temperance people counted on an easy victory since they had the names of the majority of voters on their petition, but it was not to be. They lost the election by 17 votes. The majority had voted to license the saloons.

In the meantime, petitions for elections were circulated in the other townships. Temperance organizations and churches held mass meetings, many led by women crusaders. Liquor dealers and saloon-keepers became alarmed, holding their own meetings and recruiting votes. After three months of campaigns, rallies and ballot box battles, the unpopularity of the law was confirmed. Alameda County totals showed the saloon supporters had won the battle for license by a majority of 51 votes. The law was soon repealed but the women and allies kept up the battle, which eventually led to the passage of Prohibition that made it illegal to manufacture, transport or sell alcoholic liquor except for medicinal or sacramental purposes.

Sam Brown joined the Good Templars and converted his Irvington hotel into a Temperance Boarding House. Lecturers from the IOGT (International Order of Good Templars) held meetings in his hotel which became known as Templars Hall. Members of the order were sometimes called Good Templars. They even had a baseball team in 1875.

The WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union) had been quite active in Washington Township, but by 1890 had fallen into a state of "inocuous desuetude" according to the local paper. The Irvington ladies revived the local organization and became quite active.

The Good Templars of Irvington were accustomed to holding their annual festival at Dry Creek in the late 1800s. The 1878 gathering was opened by musical numbers played by the Washington Corners (Irvington) band. After the music, Rev. Mr. Lynch of Centerville delivered an oration on the curse of intemperance that was heard with "marked attention." He observed that the deadly curse of intemperance had "an octopus-like grasp on the rarest specimens of Humanity within its reach."

Faculty and pupils of Washington College in Irvington held their annual picnic in the same place at the same time. The college chose to meet with the Good Templars because they agreed with them about the dangers of alcoholic abuse to young people. College students were complimented on their ladylike and gentlemanly bearing. It was noted that "there was no rowdyism to mar the day and be out of harmony with the fair sky and beautiful scenery."

Local Option Law gave supervisorial districts the power to close saloons after receiving a petition from residents and holding an election. Local residents filed the necessary petition and the Board of Supervisors called for an election. Leaders of the anti-saloon movement held meetings in the villages of Washington Township in 1912. The meeting at Mission San Jose was described as a good one with musical entertainment followed by several local speakers. A meeting at Allard's Hall in Warm Springs was "well attended and was a marked success." A Berkeley real estate man delivered an address at the Niles meeting in Connor's Theater. In spite of all the meetings, the southern part of the county voted to keep licensing the saloons. The anti-saloon movement divided citizens, merchants and newspaper editors into "wet and dry camps."

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors passed a law prohibiting the issuing of new liquor licenses in the county until the number of saloons had been reduced from 60 to 40. The Niles Easterday Estate applied for a license in January 1916 and was denied in spite of the cries that it was unfair toward widows of saloon men.

The 1916 national election served as evidence that temperance societies had not given up their efforts to "banish the evils created by the abuse of alcohol." Ex-Governor of Indiana, J. Frank Hanley, ran as the prohibition candidate for President of the United States and Ira Landreth of Tennessee as candidate for Vice President. They campaigned on a special train called the "Prohibition Special" and stopped at Niles in September 1916 for about half an hour. Their train was making a comprehensive tour of California before the November election. Some 50 people gathered at Niles to meet the special train and listen to the Campaign speeches.

Members of temperance organizations and their allies carried on the campaign nationwide and secured the passage of Prohibition that made it illegal to manufacture, transport or sell alcoholic liquor except for medicinal or sacramental purposes. It appeared that they had won the battle.

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