I first got sucked into the weird vortex of Temperance Hymns while checking some facts in a book about the history of the university where I work. The book mentioned that “the program in the closing day exercises of the first term featured children singing, ‘Saloons Must Go’ as they marched determinedly around the room for the benefit of the spectators.”
“Is that a real song?” I wondered. (Yes.)
It’s hard to imagine now, but the temperance movement was a hotbed of feminist and other progressive causes, especially tied to women’s rights and abolishing slavery, with lots of women leaders. Forward-looking in some ways, regressive in others, temperance crusaders had what they thought was, in many ways, the one weird trick that would cure all our societal ills. Get rid of the demon drink, and domestic abuse, poverty, corruption, and all the other sins would just go along with it.
Still, it’s hard for me not to admire their enthusiasm — particularly when I see the great lengths to which their songs go to make the case that you should only drink water for the rest of your life for the following reasons:
1. Alcoholic drinks will turn you into a demon.
2. Greek deities are putting roofies in your drink (Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, & etc.)
3. Alcohol is a pirate prince that will fill our land with … guile.
4. You live in a hovel (small notes for organ).
5. You’ll get aroused when you take the temperance pledge.
6. That’s not what we meant by aroused. Keep out of the gutter!
7. It’s just better to drink water because the “fairy people” like it.
8. An obscure, mythical German king is secretly controlling your voting habits.
9. The saloon owner’s wife has clothes from PARIS.
10. We still know how to have fun and can prove it with the length of our tralalalala-ing (can be used as a kindergarten or motion song).
11. And we can prove we are fun with a tune about some types of drinks we are not even looking at!
12. Just one more verse about the things we aren’t drinking anymore, just one each for each kind of drink.
All images are from Hymnary.org.
Hannah Faith Notess is managing editor of Seattle Pacific University's Response magazine and the editor of Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, a collection of personal essays. Her first book of poetry, The Multitude, is now available from Southern Indiana Review Press.