Temperance movement, 1874

Springfield’s women’s temperance movement lost much of its momentum in 1874, after a (male) Methodist minister went out of his way to blame the local liquor trade on immigrant Germans and Irish.

Doubly unfortunate for the crusading women, Rev. William H. Reed, pastor of Second Methodist Church (today’s Kumler Methodist, Fifth and Carpenter streets), made the remarks on the scene of the anti-saloon marchers’ biggest victory: as they were destroying liquor and beer from the only saloon they managed to shut down.

The women’s temperance movement was sweeping the U.S. in the 1870s – the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was founded on Dec. 28, 1873 – and Springfield churchwomen quickly enlisted in the cause.

Following a meeting at First Presbyterian Church on March 19, 1874, two dozen women set out to confront saloon owners. The only incident was when someone in an unruly, mainly male crowd following the women broke a window at the Sazarac bar, 229 S. Sixth St. (Notwithstanding the fact that it wasn’t their fault, the temperance group paid $3.50 to repair the window.)

Over a couple of hours, the women visited six or seven saloons. A couple of taverns closed rather than let the marchers enter, but the women were received politely at all the rest. As the Illinois State Register reported:

The ladies have visited saloons and have been, we believe, courteously received in every instance. The men whose business it is to sell liquor have allowed the ladies who desire to prevent anyone from buying liquor to take possession of their saloons to sing and pray and solicit pledges of total abstinence. By this course the saloon keepers have shown that they were willing, at least, to give the ladies a fair hearing.

One saloon owner went even further. Saying he found the liquor business distasteful, James Rayburn (1821-78) agreed to close his bar, which was near Fifth and Washington streets (see below), if the temperance forces would loan him $500 to embark on a different trade. The women quickly pledged the money, with the proviso that Rayburn take “the pledge” himself and that he agree to destruction of the liquor he already had on hand.

So on Saturday, March 28, a raucous crowd gathered to watch the disposal of Rayburn’s stock of alcohol. The Illinois State Journal reported the ensuing events under the heading “A Never To Be Forgotten Scene.”

Already increased crowds had gathered in the vicinity, lining the sidewalks and crowding stairways, balconies, awnings of buildings, along the entire block. The surging mass received the ladies with cheers, earnest cheers, and not a few of derision. … (A)fter Mr. Rayburn had signed the pledge, and as the first demi-john was brought upon the pavements, yells that would have done honor to a Pandemonium rent the air. The scene baffles description. Hoots, cheers and yells were given one after another from the time the first drop of liquor was spilled into the gutter until the last had been poured out. The ladies were far from cool themselves, but lacked not energy as they broke bottle after bottle.

The very smell of the liquor seemed to have crazed some of the bystanders; one was observed to place himself in position to actually drink out of the gutter; others quickly seized upon such bottles as the fall had missed breaking and precipitated a strife for them. As the mob yelled the excitement of some of the ladies increased; seizing a bottle by the neck as though grasping a life-long enemy, the ladies would break it with and energy which elicited admiration and cheers even from opponents.

When the barrels were knocked in the head and the whisky gushed forth into the gutter, the excitement reached its height. The ladies within the saloon sang, and the crowd without howled. … Naturally timid women forgot their timidity, and seemed as though grappling in mortal combat a deadly foe. Weak women hurled heavy demi-johns about as though the same were as light as a feather. The scene was such as had never been witnessed before, and to the looker on aught a lesson of with what energy the warfare upon the part of the ladies was carried on.

Shortly afterwards, Rev. Reed climbed on an empty whiskey barrel near Fifth and Washington Streets and declared, among other things, that foreign immigrants were largely to blame for Springfield’s liquor trade. Newspaper accounts said much of Reed’s talk was unintelligible because of “shouts of derision,” but the targets of his scorn claimed he called them “red-nosed Irish” and “bloated Dutchmen.”

A couple of days later, Reed sent the newspapers a statement to clarify his views. It didn’t help much.

It is a notorious fact that in the neighborhood of nine-tenths of the saloon keepers in this city are foreigners. I am not an enemy to this class of our population. … (I)f foreigners desire to leave the oppressions of the old world and come to this land of the free to share with us our civil and religious privileges; if they desire to work our farms … or engage in any other honorable calling, let them come and we will bid them a hearty welcome.

But to that class of foreigners who, as soon as they acquire sufficient means to secure a keg of beer and demijohn of whisky and a bottle of brandy, set up a slaughter pen to ruin and destroy our young men and corrupt society and impoverish homes, the sooner they go back to their native land the better it will be for our country.

Reed’s comments were condemned by politicians and newspaper editorial pages. Irish and Germans were joined by non-immigrants in a mass meeting at which Reed was denounced.  One speaker contrasted Reed’s “elegant leisure of the pulpit” with the manual labor done by most immigrants:

If the man who, in the name of God, ridiculed us, should follow the plow a while, or strike for a blacksmith – and I think he would fill the bill – he would not wonder at our red noses or red faces. In the name of christianity he denounces us, but such conduct is a lie and libel on christianity.

Frederick Gehring, editor of the Freie Presse, Springfield’s German-language newspaper, was similarly direct in a letter to the Journal.

“If Mr. Reed is ashamed of what he said, as he ought to be, let him acknowledge it and thereby show that he is at least sincere, though an intemperate fanatic,” Gehring wrote.

Temperance women continue to march in Springfield for months, but they had little impact on the saloon business. No other bar operators seem to have followed Rayburn’s lead in shutting down, and it took until 1917 – more than 40 years – before Springfield banned liquor sales.

It isn’t clear how James Rayburn spent the $500 loaned him by the anti-saloon movement. City directories do not state his occupation after 1874, but he may have already been ill when he got out of the liquor business. Rayburn died in 1878 “after a long and painful illness partaking of the nature of rheumatism,” according to his Illinois State Journal obituary. He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

William H. Reed, meanwhile, didn’t last long as a Springfield pastor. He was transferred to a Decatur church in September 1874, less than a year after taking the pulpit at Second Methodist. It is unknown what role, if any, his whiskey-barrel speech played in his early exit.

James Rayburn’s saloon

The 1866 Springfield City Directory lists James Rayburn as a tailor. Some time before the 1868-69 directory was published, however, he opened a saloon at 107 N. Fifth St. By the 1873-74 directory, Rayburn had moved his establishment around the corner to the “n.s. (north side) of Washington 3 w (three buildings west) of 5th.” Presumably, that was where the temperance marchers destroyed his liquor supply.

Newspaper stories about the event don’t say exactly where Rayburn’s saloon was, although one article does say Rev. William H. Reed mounted his whiskey barrel near Fifth and Washington streets

If Rayburn’s final saloon was three doors west of Fifth on Washington, that description seems to correspond to 423 E. Washington St. The building there was demolished in the  1990s and the lot converted to parking. (The two-story building at 107 N. Fifth St. is still standing.)

The 1884 Sanborn fire insurance map shows three saloons on the same two blocks – more evidence that Rayburn’s exit had little impact on Springfield’s saloon business.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.

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