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Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Never Touch Mine: A Sobriety March

Explore the Temperance movement's fight against alcohol in the U.S., where 'lips that touch liquor' spurred a historic march and the eventual Prohibition era.
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December 10th, 1913, was not just another day in the annals of American history. It marked a significant moment when over 4,000 Temperance movement and Prohibition supporters painted the streets of Washington with their earnest plea for a constitutional amendment banning alcohol. Women, armed with a powerful message and a poignant sign that read “Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch Ours,” stood prominently among the throngs. This was not merely a slogan but a stark reflection of the era’s societal plights.

These women stood united in their fight against the “Demon of Rum,” a battlecry echoed in an anonymous poem from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), emphasizing the sorrow and pain alcohol brought into their lives. “The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine,” they vowed, as they took a stand against the violence, financial ruin, and societal decay that often followed inebriation.

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The Origins of a Mantra

The origins of this iconic slogan date back to as early as the 1869 Woman’s Crusade Against Liquor. It was a mantra that resonated deeply, featured in newspaper articles, books, and even songs like the “Temperance” ditty by Sam Booth and George T. Evans, which was dedicated to the global movement against liquor. Their lyrics, “The lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine,” became a rallying cry, a watchword for the women who sought to protect themselves and their families from the ravages of alcohol.

A Cultural Phenomenon

This mantra gained such traction that it permeated various aspects of culture, from placards at marches to riverboat signs meant in jest by the Mississippi Riverboat Owners Association. Despite the parodies and the pushback from industries that thrived on vice, the message stood clear and strong. Even the riverboats that served alcohol, offered gambling and other less-than-savory entertainments, could not drown out the voices of those who marched to the Capitol that December day.

Echoes in Poetry and Legacy

As the protesters reached the Capitol, Congressman Richard Hobson and Senator Morris Sheppard greeted them and introduced legislation aligned with the Temperance movement’s goals. Their efforts, underscored by poems like George W. Young’s “Lips That Touch Liquor,” wove a narrative of personal integrity and societal reform. Young’s words, “Your lips, on my own, when they printed ‘Farewell,’ had never been soiled by the ‘beverage of hell,'” captured the movement’s essence.

While the initial march did not immediately sway legislation, it ignited a fire that would eventually lead to the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. It was a testament to the resilience of a movement that, despite being the subject of jest, held firm to the belief that the sanctity of home and family was paramount, a sentiment encapsulated by their undying motto.

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Black and white historical photograph of a group of nine women from the Temperance movement. They are posed in two rows, some seated and some standing, with solemn expressions. Behind them, a large sign reads 'Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch Ours,' indicating their commitment to the cause against alcohol consumption.
Members of the Temperance movement pose with a declaration of their stance on alcohol, a sentiment that fueled the drive towards Prohibition in the early 20th century.

The Unseen Battles

This piece of history reminds us that behind every slogan and sign are the untold struggles of those who carried them. The women who boldly declared that “lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours” were not just temperance activists; they were mothers, daughters, and wives who bore the brunt of alcohol’s destructive path. Their demonstration on December 10th, 1913, was a pivotal moment in the larger narrative of the Temperance movement, one that would see the dawn of Prohibition seven years later.

As we reflect on the legacies of movements past, the tale of these women and their unyielding spirit against the “Demon of Rum” stands as a poignant reminder of the power of collective action in shaping the moral compass of a nation.

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