Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

'For God, home and humanity': The temperance movement

In the late 1700s, friendly societies were established to help working-class people with health insurance and death benefits. They generally held their meetings in public houses. In the 1830s a group of Manchester Methodists became concerned that, by encouraging working men to attend public houses to pay their friendly society dues, these societies were harming the men's health and financial situation and threatening their moral welfare.

The Independent Order of Rechabites provided an alternative. The Order was a friendly society founded in England in 1835 as part of the temperance movement to promote total abstinence from alcoholic beverages. They took their name from a biblical tribe who were 'commanded to drink no wine' by their leader Jonadab and successfully resisted when temptation presented itself. Inspired by this story, the founders of the Order opened their first 'tent' or branch in Salford on 25 August 1835. The Victorian District (No. 82) was established in 1861.

The Rechabites modelled their ritual, titles and structure along biblical and tribal lines which were interpreted through the rituals of Freemasonry. To become a member of the Rechabites and benefit from their insurance and saving scheme, the potential member and his family had to sign a pledge which represented a solemn promise of abstinence from alcoholic beverages. In the 20th century the Order gradually transformed into a financial institution.

By far the largest temperance organisation in Victoria was the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In Victoria the Union was formed in 1887 and was affiliated with the World's WCTU established in the USA in 1874. It adopted the same motto, aim and symbol — the white ribbon bow — to educate the young in the perils of liquor, to reform drinkers, to influence public thinking and to agitate for legislation against the liquor trade.

The WCTU did not provide financial benefits, but pursued a very wide-ranging reform agenda, including female suffrage, as a means to political influence. Issues tackled by its various departments of work included prison reform, early childhood education, peace and arbitration, and indigenous disadvantage. In recent years, the WCTU turned its attention to drug education, anti-smoking and anti-gambling strategies and to the campaign against drink-driving.

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