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A Response to the W.C.T.U.

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Following the two-week war between the Women's Christian Temperance Association and the Moline saloons, there were, as might be expected, furious letters to the editors of local newspapers, defending both sides. Amid all this purple rhetoric, however, there appeared in the Rock Island Argus one carefully reasoned analysis of the whole affair, showing clearly where the women had gone wrong.

The writer was particularly bothered by the women who had entered one saloon and held a prayer meeting there. Not that the writer was against either prayer or prohibition. "No one respects prayer more than I do," said the writer, and even went on to agree that strong drink was an evil. But the Temperance ladies had acted on impulse rather than reason.

For instance, who was really at fault? Why should the saloon keeper who sold the drink be punished more than the manufacturer or the wholesaler—or the man who took a drink? Whose fault was it that the man got drunk?

Now you have to follow this carefully. "Many a young man gets married to a lovely wife," the letter writer said, "and his future seems rosy. The husband does everything in his power to please the bride, but she wants more than his salary can buy. The cheery wife is forced to live economically. It makes her less and less cheerful. He wants her to wear out her old dresses; she grumbles at the very suggestion.

What happens next is only natural, said the writer. She reproaches him for deception, and "the former tender husband, tired of hard words, seeks and finds distraction in drinking and gambling. He frequents saloons because no one there grumbles at him. Now, the writer hits home: Who is responsible for the drunkard. "Is it the saloon keepers or is it the beverage? No, it is the wrong education of our daughters."

The conclusion is obvious. Women, stop picketing saloons. Stay home and be better housewives. Husbands will be happier, and the saloons will close.

I wonder how many of you by now have imagined the writer to be male? Don't be so hasty. The letter is anonymous, and there is no evidence in the text, not even a masculine pronoun, to indicate the author is a man.

Except, of course, for the careful reasoning.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.