Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 6 - Temperance, Temperance

It's Day 6! I went through my first weekend easy-breezy. Seriously. Cleanses really do get easier with each cycle. It's amazing.

So Saturday morning I woke up - without a hangover, of course - and watched a show I enjoyed after it premiered on NBC last season - "Who Do You Think You Are." If you don't know about it, using ancestry.com, stars and celebrities trace the more murky stories of their lineage back as far as they can.

It was fun to watch Sarah Jessica Parker learn about the Salem Witch Trials connection in her past and the close connection Brooke Shields has to the French monarchy. Even Gwynneth was able to trace her ancestry back to Jewish mysticism. All so fascinating.

On Saturday morning, Helen Hunt was learning about the secrets in her family tree - because, after losing his mother to a drunk driver when he was only five - her father didn't have a lot of information about his family line.

On one side was a fascinating account of a hard-working German Jewish family who took a textile store on the Lower East Side and turned it into one of the biggest clothing manufacturers for the booming San Francisco area during the gold rush of the mid 1800's. Her family ended up having a close connection to the Wells-Fargo bank, the Lehman Brothers and Levi Strauss.

The other side was even more interesting with Helen's family being traced back to a very successful sugar importing business in Portland, Maine during the 1800's. She also learned that her great-great-great (?) grandmother was heavily involved in the Women's Christian Temperance Union which was founded in 1874. Helen was taken aback - and had a negative reaction to it. Like me, she thought of the WCTU as a bunch of prudish party-poopers who ended up causing Prohibition - a failed experiment in the end.

But Helen was schooled by Prof. Carol Maddingly, a Women and Temperance Historian at the University of Louisville, about the true nature of the early WCTU. The Hunt family - and others - were so successful at importing sugar that they began making rum with the surplus. At the time, in the mid-to-late 1800's, there was so much rum available in Portland that alcohol abuse was at an all-time high. Even children, apparently, had succumbed to the demon spirit. The problem was, all these men drunk on rum took out their (probable Dopamine Depression) on their wives and children. Domestic violence was an enormous problem for them. (Even today, fully 60% of all domestic abuse comes at the hands of a drunk offender.)

Back then, not only could women not vote, but it was very difficult to get a divorce - or even a job. Meaning, they were basically helpless at the hands of their drunken and hurtful partners. So women banded together to form the WCTU to save their own hides.

Eventually, these temperance efforts expanded to include other social issues, including fighting for women's right to vote - which Helen's great-great-great(ish) grandmother was able to do for the first time when women earned suffrage in August of 1920. Helen was brought to tears by the pride she felt for her great-ish grandmother's enormous contributions to these efforts, feeling embarrassed for her "ignorance" about the WCTU.

I had no idea the origins of the Temperance Movement myself. But having grown up in a home where there was domestic violence - all of it caused by alcohol abuse - I felt my attitude about the WCTU changing as well.

Even as I sit here, working my way through the first week of the cleanse - and knowing why I do it - I have a new respect and understanding for the WCTU. Because I start my own Temperance Movement twice a year - to curb my own angry tendencies when I drink too much.

By the way, the WCTU is still alive and well.

22 days to go!


"Alcohol, Violence and Aggression", athealth.com
"Who Do You Think You Are" - NBC

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