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Quaker News 77 Winter 2010 - From abstinence to education

Cataloguing the temperance and moral welfare collections

The archives of the Friends Temperance Union and its successors are held by the Library at Friends House, along with a considerable body of related material – books, pamphlets, posters, ephemera and lantern slides for public lectures. With the support of a grant from the Wellcome Trust, this wealth of material has now been made more accessible to researchers worldwide.

1816 poster highlighting brewing industry's grain useTemperance – moderation in alcohol use or total abstinence – is strongly associated with the Quakers. Yet some Quakers were brewers, and, like most other people, drank beer or wine regularly up to the early years of the 19th century. In 1751, the year when Hogarth’s famous Beer Street and Gin Lane prints were published, Friends at Yearly Meeting urged avoidance of drunkenness, not alcohol.

“As temperance and moderation are virtues proceeding from true religion ... we beseech all to be careful of their conduct and behaviour, abstaining from every appearance of evil; and as an excess in drinking has been too prevalent among many of the inhabitants of these nations, we commend to all Friends a watchful care over themselves, attended with a religious and prudent zeal against a practice so dishonourable and pernicious.”

Attitudes were to change radically over the next century, with the growth of a mass temperance movement.

Strong drink and excess were the original focus of the temperance campaigners. Consumption of “spirituous liquors” was seen as the root of social ills, poverty and crime. By the 1850s though, a host of local and national temperance organisations were springing up to advocate total abstinence from all forms of alcohol. Members were asked to sign a pledge to abstain, often at rousing public meetings.

Quakers were heavily involved in the movement. Nathaniel Card (1805–1856), a Manchester cotton manufacturer, was one of the founders of the National League for the Total and Legal Suppression of Intemperance, later the United Kingdom Alliance, and Samuel Bowly (1802–1884) and other Quakers were prominent in the National Temperance League. When the Friends Temperance Union was formed in the 1850s it too advocated total abstinence. Like other temperance groups it both campaigned for legislative change and undertook educational and philanthropic work. Temperance activists established temperance hotels, coffee stalls, clubs and youth groups, published tracts, gave illustrated lectures and held public meetings.

19th century poster advocating temperanceOver time Friends Temperance Union moved from being an organisation advocating total abstinence to one focused on education about the dangers of alcohol consumption. In 1955 the words “Moral Welfare” were added to its title, reflecting wider concerns with gambling and sexual behaviour. In 1987 it was renamed Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs (QAAD). Today QAAD works to address the widespread misuse of alcohol, prescribed and illegal drugs and gambling.

Over 1,200 publications on various aspects of temperance and moral welfare – from theological and medical concerns to drink-driving, childhood education, the opium trade and unmarried mothers – have now been fully catalogued and can be searched at www.quaker.org.uk/library including the previously uncatalogued library of the Friends Temperance and Moral Welfare Union. Twenty-seven boxes of archives – minute books, reports, correspondence, financial records, press-cuttings, publications and other papers – have been catalogued. As part of the project, 127 temperance posters and 1,200 lantern slides used for public shows have been digitised and catalogued: the images will be available online in 2011.