Ardent Spirits: The Origins of the American Temperance Movement—A Virtual Exhibition. . Jessy Randall, Exhibition Curator and Nicole Ketcham, Virtual Exhibition Design. The Library Company of Philadelphia.

"In the Monster's Clutches."
From Ardent Spirits Web site.
This Web site is an accompaniment to the Library Company of Philadelphia's more extensive exhibit on the origins of temperance reform in the United States. The site contains information about the exhibit and a short bibliography for readers interested in exploring the history of the temperance movement in 19-century America, but its major component is a well-illustrated, somewhat breezy virtual tour of the exhibit. The virtual tour promises to document temperance reform's "development from moral persuasion to legal coercion, from Dr. Benjamin Rush's moral thermometer in the late 18th century to the formation of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in the late 19th." To that end, the Web site leads visitors through brief treatments of the medical arguments for temperance, the Maine Law of 1851 and other attempts to limit access to beverage alcohol, the use by temperance reformers of demonic imagery and sketches of moral decay to further their crusade, women's dry activism, the support systems created for troubled drinkers, and the place of temperance in American culture.

The virtual tour is stronger on arresting imagery than it is on logical organization or description. The nightmarish frontispiece to Timothy Shay Arthur's Grappling with the Monster (1877), depicting a drinker tortured by demonic imps, snakes, and dogs and beset by an alcohol-inspired vision of chaotic struggle between women and policemen, opens the tour. Details from this illustration, entitled "In the Monster's Clutches," reappear throughout the tour as a kind of thematic glue. Devil dogs from the same illustration hover on each page, revealing temperance trivia
Benjamin Rush's "moral thermometer."
From Ardent Spirits Web site.
(Edgar Allen Poe was a member of the Sons of Temperance, for instance) when a visitor passes a mouse over them. My insufficiently powered office computer was only partially successful at gaining access to these tidbits. The tour includes a marvelous reproduction of Dr. Benjamin Rush's "moral thermometer," several humorous temperance-centered valentines, and a succession of artistic depictions of vomiting inebriates, including Hogarth's classic "Gin Lane." A collection of temperance pledges is one of the most informative pieces of historical evidence contained in the exhibit tour. The exhibit is best at depicting the cultural impact of temperance reform, presenting an angelic advertisement for Hire's Root Beer, a vocal clip of "Father, Dear Father," and a good section on T. S. Arthur's classic Ten Nights in a Bar-Room.

Historians will nevertheless note important omissions and weaknesses in the Web site. There is no mention of the Washingtonian movement, a working-class temperance crusade of crucial significance to temperance reform, and little discussion of women's organizations (the exhibit's promise about the WCTU notwithstanding) or prohibition laws. Nor does the virtual tour distinguish between distilled and fermented alcoholic drinks (a critical factor in early temperance reform), discuss the long and short pledges (one repudiating all alcoholic beverages, the other only "ardent spirits" such as whiskey), or illuminate the shift from temperance to prohibition. The site's illustrations and text hint at these topics, but do not discuss them clearly. As a result, historians should use the Library Company of Philadelphia's Ardent Spirits Web site as they should alcohol itself, with pleasure but also with moderation and awareness of its reality-bending properties.

Thomas R. Pegram
Loyola College

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Web Site Review of Ardent Spirits: The Origins of the American Temperance Movement
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