[Andover, Maine]: 1860. Comprised of 37 handwritten pages in ink. Stitched into contemporary dark blue wrapper handmade from a folded broadside advertisement for the J. Alden Smith Job Printing Office of Bethel, ME. According to the 1850 federal census of Oxford County, Maine, Small was the son of Joshua and Dorothea Small; he would have been 28 at the time of delivering this oratory. While little else is known about Small himself, his manuscript speech captures an watershed moment in U.S. history where women's previous domestic influence over temperance was brought to the public forum, enabling them to increase their sphere of influence, push for the expansion of their rights, and contribute toward the passage of the 18th and 19th Amendments.
Small's speech came at a crucial moment for the movements he addresses. Maine, a hotbed of temperance sentiment, had become the first state to pass a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol in 1851; and though the law was soon repealed in 1856, it set legal precedent for other states to begin limiting or banning the sale of spirits. Like the abolition movement in the same period, women had used their authority domestic spaces to promote temperance. "In her role as the ultimate moral authority of the family, a woman could inculcate strict temperance ideals in her children, refuse to serve alcoholic beverages to guests, [and] abandon their usage as ingredients in cooking and medicines" (Dannenbaum). And, as with the abolition movement, when temperance shifted from domestic social activism to public legal effort, women often found their power circumscribed by the men who were allowed to speak, lobby, or vote. Thus, many women involved in abolition and temperance found themselves attracted to and drawn into equality and suffrage associations that would empower them. Thomas Small was seemingly aware of these shifts. Acknowledging from the start of his oratory that the movement's success relies on the "ladies and gentlemen" in attendance, he centers his argument on the domestic ills that come with men's intoxication. Certainly there are larger economic ills, he posits, when men succumb to drink and become incapable of industry; but ultimately the greatest crimes are committed against wives and children. "Intemperance poisons domestic felicity...The rehearsal of bloody massacres; and the cruel treatment of inoffensive women and children, which are recorded in the annals of intemperance...would make one sick at heart." Because women have a vested interest in securing their homes and families, Small praises the Union Temperance Association for allowing female membership, and he praises women past (including Elizabeth Cromwell and Martha Washington) and present for their contributions, exhorting them to continue. "There is a peculiar significancy in its provision to admit the ladies as members. If men hold the political power of Society, women have mainly in their hands the more important moral power. It is obvious there cannot be a moral community where women are licentious." On the surface, Small's oratory suggests the importance of women's contributions; yet he's very careful to cast it as soft power, fully limited to domestic space and the performance of sanctioned femininity. Quite carefully he praises women who made political change as wives to politically powerful husbands, rather than women like Susan B. Anthony or even Frances Willard who were making political change publicly on their own. Encouraging women toward participation in temperance as an activist cause is in fact far more conservative than it initially appears; and a woman who is "licentious" in her alcohol consumption or her public activities is cast as dangerous to the unity of the family unit based in male superiority.
Notably, women activists were not only important in getting Maine to reassert state prohibition in the next two decades; but they were also key in the passage of the 18th Amendment for federal prohibition. With this evidence of their political power, women advanced toward suffrage, with state ratifications of suffrage occurring throughout the turn of the century and leading to the 19th Amendment.
A fascinating and research rich manuscript, with project possibilities including but not limited to the fields of the history of U.S. politics and law, activism and intersectional activism, women's history, gender studies, paleography, composition and rhetoric. (Item #2808)