- Devil of the Domestic Sphere: Temperance, Gender, and Middle-Class Ideology, 1800–1860, and: Bad Fruits of the Civilized Tree: Alcohol and the Sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation
Alcohol has been a close companion for many of America’s celebrated characters and most infamous scoundrels. Rarely, however, do we think about the ways in which the distribution and consumption of alcohol has shaped cultural and political identities within the context of American history, particularly during the reform movements of the nineteenth century. Scott Martin, chair of the history department at Bowling Green State University and winner of the 1996 Phi Alpha Theta Book Award for Killing Time: Leisure and Culture in Southwestern Pennsylvania, 1800–1850, and Izumi Ishii, who teaches at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, have provided two important works that open up a discussion on this very issue.
According to Martin, the absence of a book-length history of temperance within the last three decades is symptomatic of the way scholars see the temperance movement in women’s history as an “abject failure.” Such neglect, however, restricts a proper understanding of class and [End Page 160] gender constructions in America during the long nineteenth century. Martin’s latest book, Devil of the Domestic Sphere: Temperance, Gender, and Middle-Class Ideology, 1800–1860, endeavors to correct such historical myopia, presenting the temperance movement as a prime mover in the creation of an American cultural identity. Temperance picked up speed around the time America experienced the social disruptions caused by the transition from an agrarian to a commerce-based economy. Battling the ways in which alcohol threatened product efficiency and family cohesion, reformers utilized revolutionary republican ideology that identified women as naturally endowed agents who could provide moral stability in an increasingly rootless society. The use of the female sex in this way helped to create a new type of woman. In the nineteenth-century mind, the principles of piety, prudence, and purity made up the very nature of the female character; such ideals were imbued in the emerging domestic sphere, a sphere that followed, writes Martin, “the dictates of the natural order” (5). For temperance advocates, the moral fiber of American nationalism was only as strong as the sober women who guarded the domestic sphere.
Martin relies heavily on popular temperance publications to tell his story, emphasizing the reality of how such provocative literature was often given a new sense of authority when reinforced by scientific discourse. His presentation of the medical writings of Charles D. Meigs, the “pioneer of American gynecology,” is perhaps the most interesting in this study. Meigs mixed popular literature and scientific discourse in order “to illustrate the ‘natural,’ physiologically determined qualities of female character: fidelity, obedience, and perseverance” (12). Perhaps inadvertently, Martin’s chapter on Meigs shows the deeper complexities of new cultural history, offering profound implications beyond the intent of the book—namely, the inability of so-called objectivist science to step outside the boundaries of its own cultural context.
The latter portions of the book address two significant dilemmas faced by temperance advocates. The first had to do with the problem of controlling the sale of liquor while concurrently upholding the sacrosanct realities of free market activity. To solve the problem, temperance advocates returned to republican political philosophy. The end goal of economic interaction among citizens was the general welfare of society. The term individualism, which went into common use in the nineteenth century, referred to the self-centeredness of greedy entrepreneurs. Alcohol quenched the dissolute thirst of individuals and did not contribute to [End Page 161] building a virtuous commonwealth. Although this did not arrest the flow of liquor, it nonetheless provided a rationale for banning illicit drink while preserving commercial capitalism.
The second issue revolves around the inherent contradiction of the ideal woman. Not only was she represented as a...