The ABCs of Lowell History: T is for Temperance

The ABCs of Lowell History is back for another round. This popular series explores a wide variety of topics in Lowell area history in weekly online articles and is written by volunteers and staff from the Lowell Area Historical Museum.

T is for Temperance

The temperance movement thrived in the village of Lowell. Lectures and presentations are recorded as early as 1874. Also recorded in 1874 is contemplation from the U. S. Brewer’s Association in forming their own anti-temperance society to counter the temperance movement.

The first formation of an organized temperance society in Lowell was the “Red Ribbon Reform”, which was begun in 1877. By 1900, the Lowell chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) was organized and held meetings. The temperance movement sought to do good work and provide alternatives to time spent drinking. In 1900 the W.C.T.U. had a project that collected reading matter to be forwarded to the lumbermen, and they invited the community to donate to the project. The success of this project is not known.

The temperance movement brought churches together in Lowell. Frequently on Sunday evenings the Baptist and Congregational churches would meet at the Methodist church as the three hosted W.C.T.U. meetings and presentations.

In 1908 the Lowell W.C.T.U. formed a chapter of the W.C.T.U. children’s club called the Loyal Temperance Legion. At the first meeting 23 children ages 7-14 were in attendance. Their rally cry was –
“Ready all – Forward all!
Down the King Alcohol!
Michigan is in line.
We will conquer – give us time.
Hurrah! Hurrah for the L. T. L.”

Michigan was the first state to start and end Prohibition. Michigan passed prohibition in 1917, though the 18th amendment didn’t take effect nationwide until 1919. This did not end the making, selling or consumption of liquor in the Lowell area, or anywhere in Michigan.

Law enforcement worked hard to enforce the new constitutional change. Sheriff William Smith along with Deputies Jack Wiest and Pat Bowes hunted down illegal drink in Lowell. In 1924 a Keene Township farmer, wanted since 1923 on a liquor charge, was found in Milwaukee. Deputy Bowes traveled there to bring him back for trial. Area farmers were arrested for making moonshine from their own harvest. One farmer was found to have grown 100 bushels of rye to be used for moonshine mash. Another farmer, in attempting to outrun the Sheriff, was shot in the leg, effectively preventing his escape.

Some arrests were for simply possessing liquor. One humorous report told the story of a woman bragging that her courtroom tears earned her a lighter sentence than her husband for the possession of moonshine. Other arrests were for the sale of liquor. One arrest in Segwun revealed a copper still along with ten gallons of liquor.

Unfortunately, some of the consequences of home-made liquor were deadly. In October of 1922 the count was up to six of people in the Lowell area who had died from poison moonshine whiskey. Again in 1925 there was an investigation when a Belding man died from suspected effects of poison moonshine whisky reportedly purchased in the Village of Lowell.

The temperance amendment lasted for a little over a decade. Michigan was the first to vote to end prohibition in May of 1933. The 21st amendment was later ratified on December 5, 1933.

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