During the first half of the nineteenth century, the temperance movement began in the East and then spread throughout the country. Initially aimed at reducing the use of liquor by individuals, the movement splintered into several factions, many of which advocated the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of all intoxicants. Included among the Society's newspaper holdings are a dozen titles published by Missourians favoring prohibition. Many of the papers are represented by a single issue such as the May 14, 1853, St. Louis Temperance Battery, the earliest temperance newspaper in the collection. The 1916-1918 span of the Boonville Message is the longest run of a temperance newspaper in the Society's holdings, and its June 21, 1918 issue is the latest date represented. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1880s.
The contents of the newspapers vary, but all focus on the evils of drinking. The Lathrop Golden Era forthrightly declared its purpose: “Death to the Liquor Traffic. Rescue the Fallen and Save the Young.” Through news items, essays and sermons, editors recounted the miseries endured by drinkers and their families. Some of th editors actively opposed local petitions to open drinking establishments and campaigned for a statewide prohibition amendment. many of the editors also traveled to deliver temperance lectures or served as pastors of churches in addition to their journalistic activities.
Although the Society's holdings of temperance newspapers are not extensive, the collection permits a glimpse into an important social and political movement that culminated nationally in the ratification of the Eighteenth amendment to the Constitution in 1919.