Preaching temperance on New Year’s Day?!

Lavinia, a temperance advocate, hailed from New York where the tradition was to hold an open house for family and friends on New Year’s Day. In 1870, she welcomed the New Year with the German family who had just tried to get her tipsy on Christmas. Four years later, she celebrated in Janesville, Wisconsin surrounded by kindred spirits. On both holidays she preached temperance to the revelers. Her letters describe the results of her efforts.

Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours; temperance activists
Is that a threat or a promise?

New Year’s Day 1870 in New York City

Lavinia wrote that the German family with whom she boarded set a table with “cold roast turkey, ham, potato salad, bread and butter, a variety of cakes, fruit, raisins, nuts, confectionery and, I am sorry to add, wine was spread in the parlor.”

Due to an impending storm, her first caller decided to arrive early–before she was even dressed! She had also expected her Uncle Hill to call, but he was deterred by the weather. Lavinia was sorry for that. He would have enjoyed the nibbles, she wrote, and “helped me out with my temperance speeches.” She told her parents:

I have to fight my temperance battles unaided and alone & against fearful odds. It makes me indignant to see the women encourage the men to drink, altho’ they partake very modestly themselves. However it wasn’t as bad yesterday as I feared it might become. The callers came in squads of half a dozen or so, appeared to be familiar friends, sat down to the table and ate hearty meals, and staid from half an hour to an hour. German style I suppose.

By evening they began to be a little hilarious, sang and made speeches on the slightest provocation, and quite inclined to kiss the ladies. However they really behaved better than I expected under the circumstances. It is astonishing to see how much drink their constitutions will bear. Dr. and Baron hired a carriage and went out early in the day & didn’t get home till evening. I was afraid they would be “tight,” but to my delight they were not. Baron said he had thought about me all day & had been very moderate.

The Dr. went to bed early, but the Baron & the rest of us sat up till nearly 12 o’clock, talking over the events of the day. I spent most of my time in urging the Baron not to drink any more, which he was very much inclined to do, & enforcing my precepts by hiding the glasses and bottles.

New Year’s Day 1874 in Janesville

Lavinia had better luck in Janesville. Although it was not the custom to receive callers on New Year’s Day, she and other members of the Ladies Temperance Union decided to hold an open house with a twist. They dressed in their finest clothes, prepared a sumptuous buffet at the home of Mrs. Dorcas Beale (their LTU leader and Lavinia’s dear friend), and urged callers to sign a temperance pledge. Here is Lavinia’s account of the party:

New Year’s Day the Ladies Temperance Union received calls at Mrs. Beale’s. It was a warm, sunny day, mild and balmy as April, and a beautiful moonlit evening. About 15 ladies there to receive. I was one of them; Mrs. Hoppin another. We had a table spread with a variety of good things and received about 55 calls. Had a delightful time. I wore my black silk, with pink ribbons. Rebecca Hoppin wore her bridal costume. The ladies all looked nicely. We all contributed to the collection. I furnished biscuit. Mrs. Hoppin made the pyramid loaf of cake. We had cold roast turkey, tongue, chicken salad, several kinds of cake, apples, tea, coffee, biscuit, etc. Our temperance pledge was on hand and received a number of signatures. 

That night, Lavinia wrote in her diary: “We had over 50 calls, nearly half of whom signed the pledge. A delightful time. Staid till 10 P.M. Very pleasant calls. A happy New Year.”

From Lavinia’s perspective, the Janesville 1874 open house was more fun. But wouldn’t you love to know what the Germans thought of her antics at the New York 1870 open house?! CB

Sources Consulted: Lavinia’s letter to William and Clarissa Goodell, January 2, 1870; Lavinia’s letter to Maria Frost, January 4, 1874; Lavinia’s Diary, January 1, 1874.

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