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Lips that Touch Liquor: Fighting for the Face of Female Temperance by Dr Gemma Outen

Lips that Touch Liquor: Fighting for the Face of Female Temperance, forthcoming with the Royal Historical Society / University of London Press (2021), will be the first full-length examination of the female temperance movement. Women played a significant part in temperance, the largest social reform movement of the nineteenth century, due to the positioning of temperance as an issue of morality. Female reformers therefore, were able to largely bypass concerns around respectability and reputation and redefine ideas of female duty. Lips that Touch Liquor will consider the three key groups within the movement, beginning in 1876 with the formation of the British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA) and their journal the British Women’s Temperance Journal (BWTJ) (1883-1892) before outlining the internal schism of 1893 and the subsequent split into the National British Women’s Temperance Association (NBWTA) and the Women’s Total Abstinence Union (WTAU). The text explores the reasons for the split, and considers these groups and their journals, the Women’s Signal (1894-1999), the White Ribbon (1895-1926), and Wings (1892-1926) respectively, to argue that temperance reform was a key factor in the wider move toward female liberation. My monograph will position the groups and journals as creators of community, real, imagined and emotional, and argue that female collectivity was vital to the success of each group, and indeed the wider female temperance movement.

Further, and likely of interest to the Network, it undertakes analysis of women involved in the movement to rediscover forgotten female voices and stories. First it undertakes a wide analysis of officers and members of the groups, thus creating a picture of an ‘average’ woman involved in temperance across both the NBWTA and the WTAU. Using names and addresses of officers of the group, I’ve been able to locate women of the groups in the census and create a picture of a ‘typical’ female worker in each of the groups encompassing age, marital status, number of children, level of domestic help, and occupation. This level of detail is often unavailable and allows an exploration of real women involved in the female temperance movement. As a scholar of print and periodical culture, and concerned with the journals of the groups, I will also be able to contrast this ‘average’ member of the group against the implied reader of the periodical and draw conclusions about gendered construction and expectation for women of the period. I have a forthcoming article in Victorian Periodicals Review (Winter 2020) on this very topic.

Lips that Touch Liquor also examines four specific case studies of high-profile women involved in the groups. Lady Henry Somerset, President of the BWTA, and subsequently NBWTA from 1890 to 1903, and first editor of the Signal, will be considered alongside Florence Fenwick Miller, editor of the Signal from 1895 to 1899. Then, it considers Lady Elizabeth Biddulph, President of the WTAU from 1896 to 1898, and Fanny Forsaith, editor of Wings from 1894 onwards. The two groups differed in their views over how to best undertake temperance work and indeed, this was one of the reasons for the split in 1893. The NBWTA believed temperance should be carried out in line with other social reform movements including female suffrage, female employment, and social purity, whilst the WTAU wished to focus only on temperance alone.

With this in mind, Miss Fanny Forsaith is a fascinating character. Born in Royston in Hertfordshire on 22nd March 1849, she was an apparently unremarkable woman. Her father was a congregational minister, her brother was a clerk in a bank. She lived with her parents until her mid-40s, after which she moved in with her brother. She did not marry. She had live-in domestic help throughout her adult life. She was a firmly middle-class woman. Yet, in spite of these seemingly unremarkable factors, Forsaith in particular can be used to illustrate some of the issues and complexities around female reform work during the late nineteenth century.

Fanny was a member of the British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA), and later, when this group split, she was a founding member of the Women’s Total Abstinence Union (WTAU) and editor of their journal Wings. As she choose to join the organisation which asserted it would only work on temperance, it would be expected that Forsaith would follow this. But, she was also a prolific reform worker within the social purity movement and was close friends with Josephine Butler, the high-profile campaigner against the Contagious Diseases Acts. She worked with Butler on The Shield (1870-1886 / 1897-1900) and The Dawn (1888-1896), the latter of which was the mouthpiece of the British, Continental and General Federation for the Abolition of State Regulation of Vice. Indeed, Forsaith was the named contact at the headquarters for the group and the paid secretary of the British committee of the group. Social purity work was an extremely contentious and disreputable area of work. Yet, in spite of overt differences there were links between social purity and temperance, as Forsaith worked on within both movements. This in turn, brings the accepted reasons for the split into question as several members of the WTAU, the supposed ‘temperance-only’ group, actually worked across several social reform movements.

Fanny Forsaith, along with the other three case studies, is representative of the intricacies involved in women’s reform work more broadly but also specifically, the female temperance movement and the battle to control the factions and journals within. With generous support from the Women’s History Network, Lips that Touch Liquor seeks to bring to light a long-neglected area of women’s history, and more than that, the voices and stories of the women within.

Dr Gemma Outen is an Early Career Researcher. She has a chapter in Women, Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1830s-1900s: The Victorian Period and recently co-edited a special guest issue of Victorian Periodicals Review (Winter 2020). Her first monograph, Lips that Touch Liquor: Fighting for the Face of Female Temperance, is forthcoming in 2021 with the Royal Historical Society / University of London Press.

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