I’m back at school and ready to tackle the enormous quantity of research findings from my Atlanta trip. Although I’m still going through the process of organizing and pinpointing key sources, I wanted to share some of my discoveries from the Spelman collection. I was really excited about what I had found in the archive’s collection of the Messenger, particularly between 1885 and 1910. It’s a unique source because it contains the distinct voice of these young African American women as they thought through the concepts of temperance, morality, physical and spiritual health, and black womanhood during a tumultuous period. Distributed both to alumni and to potential Northern donors, the paper must be read as a kind of presentation: to publish the Messenger was to put forward a very specific view on what Spelman aimed to be. Consequently, the articles can tell us a lot about the aspirations and ideals of these women and their institution, and therefore provide insight into an uplift strategy that was based on specific behavior and ideology. Below are transcriptions of just a few samples that I found interesting and representative of the broader collection. I’ll be adding more transcripts and pdfs of key articles to website here.
On the Fulton County referendums on Prohibition in 1887:
“Prohibition and anti-prohibition had been, for weeks, in heated conflict throughout the city. The following Tuesday was the last day for the registering of Voters, and the very air seem to stick with the strife between good and evil.
Two by two our teachers went forth into the homes of the people to win votes for temperance, and secured many promises to register, and vote on the right side: but this was no easy task, for, in every instance, the sophistries of the enemy were met and had to be calmly and patiently exposed.
In no place did we receive any but courteous treatment. Even where our earnest suit was denied, the denial was most politely given, in most cases because of a previous promise to “vote wet.”
At one place two of our teachers met agents of the liquor party, and his arguments flowed forth with fluency resulting from his diligent work in the city during many weeks. “You all be rich,” said he “and so you can afford to buy a quantity and always have it handy when you’re sick: but for poor folks like us it’s too hard to have to go without it, ‘cause we ain’t got enough money to buy it by the gallon. And then again there ain’t nobody got any right to prohibit folks buying or selling it, no way. Just you look at the word now! Prohibit! It means to forbid, and if we let you forbid us a drink when we thirsty, pretty soon you’ll be forbidding me to keep a poor little mule: it’s just as reasonable to prohibit mules as it is drinks and then again, there ain’t no hurt in liquor, nor never was! All the bad actions that you Temperance folk talk so much about comes from the people themselves; the liquor ain’t to blame! You just let liquor stay in the jug and it never don’t do no harm!” We told him that we quite agreed with him in this, and we wanted to keep it in the jug!
The liquor advocate moved on in diligent pursuit of his business, and then the to voters who had been listening to our conversation took up the same line of argument. “Now you see,” said one, “the liquor was here when the Lord put us into the world and so it looks like he meant we should stay here with it.” These two men adhered to their purpose to “vote wet.”
Others were found who had not before thought very much about the matter as a Christian duty. One appeal to us Christians to consider how the Savior would vote, were he in their place, they confessed their belief that his vote would be for prohibition, and gave their word that they would vote as he would have them.
At nightfall we see ceased our labor’s abroad, but in our family devotions that evening there were many earnest petitions for God’s blessing on the temperance cause and Atlanta, and daily our prayers have mingled with one thousand continually ascending that God might overrule all the efforts of the liquor party to carry the city in this election.”
Messenger, 12/1887 (pg 4)
On the body and health:
“No considerate person would put a distinguished and loved guest into the filthiest, most smoky and dingy room of the house, but, would select the best, cleaning and decorating such a room in the best possible manner. Then why desire the Holy Spirit to take up his Abode in a body saturated with tobacco and rum or one filled with General filth, to the extent to make it a mass of disease?
Why attempt to associate the religion of Jesus with the foul stench of these two combined poisons, so disgusting that decent people, unused to them, turn away in disgust! If we would improve a room for our guests, why not purify the cell body, eject its disgusting occupants, tobacco, etc, before inviting the Lord Jesus to take his abode with us?
The principles announced by our savior are in a direct and manifest opposition to such uncleanness, favoring a body free from all defilement – and consequences of these, – a body more resembling the original one, as it came from our Glorious Creator, with pure blood, a clear and active mind, and the pure and righteous all. In my opinion, our Holy religion is admirably calculated to improve the body, make it strong and vigorous, free from disease, able to labor in the Lord’s Vineyard; to give an active and expansive mind, clear and its perceptions, and a soul and harmony with its Divine Author. While the world is little better than a vast hospital, filled with fractions of human beings, it is evident that the Millennium has not come, and, that our religion is doing but very little for us, compared with what it is well adapted to do, if we will but utilize its purposes.”
“Health Department: Purity of Body,” February 1888 (pg 7)
On on-campus organizing:
“We have had six rousing temperance meetings on the Fridays devoted to that subject. On one occasion we were addressed by ladies from the city, on another we solved a black board puzzle, on others there were entertaining recitations and songs, and our last meeting we tied the threads left hanging in our previous meetings, and discussed methods of temperance work during our coming vacation. The children of the training school have helped us twice, and one of our members has given them many temperance lessons, on which they have passed a most satisfactory examination. A Spelman Seminary Temperance pledge book, which is always to be capped with the school records, has been opened, and there are now on it over 300 names. Our students have promised to try to obtain temperance pledge signatures during the summer, and many are making plans to start temperance societies among the children at home or wherever they may be employed.”
– “Temperance Work at Spelman, “ November 1889 (pg 6)
On off-campus organizing:
“When in Spelman I signed to the pledge, and raised my right hand that I would lead others to sign also. That rested on my mind the whole while till I was engaged in the work. It was my whole study all the way to my home, how to begin to form a Temperance band. I asked the dear Lord to be with me and teach me how and what to do.
So in June when I arrived at home, on the first day that I was there, sister and I went out to Sunday school. The pastor gave me a class of 12 little girls. Well I was sitting there conversing with the children it came across my mind that it would be a good chance for me to form a little Temperance band. I paused for a moment and ask the Lord how must I begin. I then asked the children if any of them were temperance, and they told me, “no.” I asked them if they wanted to be, they said, “yes,” And seemed very much delighted in it. They said they would sign the pledge.
I went home and spoke to my sister concerning me forming the Temperance Society; she said she thought it would be very nice. I spoke that and said, “Charity always begins at home.” She turned and asked me what did I have reference to. I told her I must first try to form a little band at home, and then go abroad. She said, yes, that was so; she signed the pledge while a small girl, but she would sign again. So she signed, then my brother, and then my brother-in-law. After they had signed, we knelt and I asked the Lord to help them to keep the pledge which they have taken, followed by my sister.
On the next following Sunday I spoke to my pastor concerning the matter, and he said that there had never been any Temperance band in that church and he would be very glad to have one there. After Sunday school was over, I told the superintendent that I would like to say a few words on temperance. He consented, and I was listened to it to very attentively while speaking. I spoke concerning our temperance band at Spelman, what a help it was to us, and it would help them to be total abstainers period after I had gotten through, I asked how many would join me in signing the pledge, and about 75 raised their hands. I then sat on one side of the table and my sister on the other, and took their names as they came up and gave them. The next Sunday, 35 more joined. I then wrote to the next day to my teachers (Miss Upton and Miss Dana) for some pledges and badges. My reason for meeting Sunday was because I thought I could get the children together better after Sunday School.
About two weeks later I was called a way to teach school at Chickamauga. There I met great trouble. My children all used snuff and tobacco; intemperance rang through the school. The first thing after school opened I had a prayer meeting especially for those who use snuff and tobacco. Several of them decided they would be intemperance no longer, but would be temperance the balance of their days. We continued that way till the whole school were temperance. Then my heart leaped for joy.
The place where I was 16 miles from my home (Chattanooga, Tennessee) where I formed the temperance band. I came home once a month to attend that meeting; we had public exercises once a month.
The little band consisted of a president, secretary, treasurer and librarian, chosen by the band. I was chosen president; I felt that I was not able to preside as president, though I accepted the office cheerfully, trusting in God to help me. The name of the band is the United Band of Volunteers.”
– “Temperance,” Rosa E. HIll, class of 1892, published in February 1890 (page 5)