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Temperance Societies

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

How many temperance societies does a town need in order to keep its German immigrants from drinking beer? That’s the question the citizens of Bellevue, Iowa set out to answer back in 1839.

Bellevue was then still a raw frontier town full of rough pioneers, but they were no match for Elder Bartholomew Weed, a Methodist missionary who held a camp meeting in a nearby woods that year. So effectively did Elder Weed preach against intoxicating beverages that a hundred and fifty citizens signed a temperance pledge—most of the town. But not, of course, the Germans.

That would take a more organized effort. The Sons of Temperance was organized in Bellevue in 1853, with about forty-four members. Not including the Germans.

A second temperance group, the Watchmen, organized in 1855. Then came the Temple of Honor in 1856, followed by the Order of the Sons of Temperance, which admitted ladies as members—but no Germans, as you might have guessed. They were drinking beer in the halls of their own Bellevue Turnverein.

In 1877, a grand temperance revival hit Bellevue and all the rest of Jackson County, leading to the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which pulled out all the weapons they could: lectures, readings, essays, recitations. Their motto was “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous woman availaleth much.” Except, apparently, when it came to drying up the Germans.

Other organizations tried as well. There was the Bellevue Reform Club, with its temperance concerts, the Juvenile Union targeting young people and the Literary Temperance Union, combining temperance with literary exercises.

All of these temperance organizations in so small a town made Bellevue the temperance capitol of the United States, but they had little impact on the Germans. How many temperance societies does a town need in order to keep Germans from drinking beer? To this day, no one has yet found out.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

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.