One classroom handout intended for younger students tells a fictionalized story of a young Benjamin Franklin. While working as a printer, Franklin is appalled by “the great guzzlers of beer” with whom he worked. Dismayed by their behavior, Franklin pledges total abstinence: Temperance puts “credit in the country ... and spirit in the whole constitution.” The tale is a total fabrication; though not a big drinker, Franklin was known to imbibe occasionally. Moreover, the temperance movement in the United States began decades after his death. Regardless of the story’s veracity, the WCTU relied heavily on enlivened sentiments of patriotism in the postwar era, attempting to conflate love of country with hate of drink.
Though its political and social capital had all but diminished, the WCTU continued to push for temperance education through the 1960s. Many public officials still endorsed temperance policies, despite up to two-thirds of the public leaning in favor of moderate alcohol consumption. In an undated letter to the teachers of Georgia, Mary Scott Russell, the president of the Georgia Woman’s Christian Temperance Union during the 1930s and ’40s, wrote that these plans had been “heartily endorsed by the heads of the Atlanta School System.” With the blessing of the school board and with a plethora of material provided by the National WCTU, the Georgia chapter of the WCTU distributed lesson plans, skits and plays, and other pedagogical ephemera throughout the state and into the Georgia public school system. They organized school-wide events such as Temperance Day, Frances E. Willard Day (in honor of the woman who founded the WCTU in 1873), and youth abstinence training camps. A significant amount of pedagogical material the organization generated was aimed at elementary-aged children. These materials include card-sized handouts of modified nursery rhymes, often bizarrely contorting well-known children’s poems to fit into their overall message of abstinence from alcohol. Take, for example, this riff on “Mary Had a Little Lamb”:
Mary and her little lamb live on a great big farm.
Mary loves her little lamb and keeps it safe from harm.
It follows her to school, but it waits out on the grass.
There really isn’t anything a lamb could do in class!
But Mary studies earnestly each day she is in school.
Good citizens must be informed! She knows that’s the rule.
She’s learning what to eat and drink to keep her well and fit.
She learns, too, what she must not drink—and alcohol is it!
In other pedagogical materials found in the archive, the whiskey bottle played a prominent role in symbolizing the alleged decline of American culture. The WCTU emblazoned the image of the bottle in their teaching material and cartoons, scribbled crude doodles of glassware in the margins of teaching notes, and typed up horrifying stories about children who dared to drink from the bottle only to encounter death and misery. As a character, whiskey even makes an appearance in Any Boy, a 1953 educational film created by the WCTU. In the film, Mr. Whiskey—played by an adult male actor—attempts to entice an unsuspecting young man into a life of drinking, which he fortunately eludes.