Victorian Protester Tactics: Chasing the Rum Demon out of London

In June 1908, a locally famous temperance advocate, Mrs. J. Muchert, visited the Hamilton County Jail in Chattanooga, as she had every Sunday for 14 years. She had an impressive resumé, having spent 17 years teaching in the slums of London, before hopping the pond to work with prison inmates in Tennessee. She spent eight years in Memphis then came to Chattanooga to work with the church committee that held regular services at the jail.

On this particular Sunday, Mrs. Muchert was pleased to be joined by Mrs. Adkins, a temperance advocate from Nashville. The group came downstairs after the service and stood in the jail lobby, where Mrs. Muchert was induced to share her views on the “whisky question.” A Chattanooga News reporter listened and took notes as she explained her success in London.

There was no prohibition in England, Mrs. Muchert explained. “The way we go after the Rum Demon is like this: women temperance workers hold meetings in some part of London every night. The clubs are divided up into districts. If we hear of a man or woman drinking, we assign his or her case to the member of our club living in that neighborhood. Then the drinking person is sought out and urged to attend our meetings.”

The Drinking Person may have thought they were merely attending a meeting at the behest of a pushy temperance worker but once they were in the room, they were prevailed upon to speak. In a technique any cult leader would appreciate, Mrs. Muchert said, “We persist until we get him or her to make a public statement of how drink is affecting them.” Making a public avowal before the group was key, as the Drinking Person did not want to appear inconsistent. It was rare for them to return to drinking again, Mrs. Muchert said.

Prohibition bandwagon
Prohibition bandwagon

 

Even so, Mrs. Muchert was not one to leave anything to chance. If news reached her that the new convert had gone back to drinking, she redeployed the temperance advocate. “We persist in this method until we have won the case.”

Someone asked how saloons were dealt with in London, prompting Mrs. Muchert to unveil another tactic that sounds surprisingly modern. “If we find an obnoxious public house, as saloons are called in England, we hold meetings in front of that place night after night until we have driven all their trade away,” she said proudly. “Then the place is bought up by our society and we establish a coffee house.”

Temperance
image from hhhistory.com

 

As the group lingered in the lobby, Mrs. Muchert took the opportunity to lecture the guards about the dangers of having male and female inmates in the same facility. It didn’t matter that they were kept separated on different floors, she admonished them. “Coarse, indecent language, which it is beyond the power of a jailer to prohibit, is carried to the ears of the females, and it is, to say the least, not beneficial to their soul’s welfare.”

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