Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

December 14, 2013

Temperance union targeting pot

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The mansion that serves as Maine headquarters of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union lay largely fallow until recently, with drug needles, liquor bottles and pornographic magazines littering the grounds. Now, in the state where Prohibition had its roots and in a city that just legalized recreational marijuana, the WCTU is overhauling the building and looking to reinvent itself.

Leaders of the organization, which is committed to abstinence, plan to take a lower-key approach, compared with the old days when crusading women terrorized saloon owners.

“We just want to bring a new passion here. It’s not that we want to be self-righteous and condemn you because you’re drinking or drugging or you’re smoking pot,” said the Rev. David Perkins, who is working with his wife to restore the WCTU’s Portland chapter. “It’s not that. We want to love you but tell you that there are ill effects.”

Last week marked both the 80th anniversary of the end of Prohibition and the legalization of marijuana in Portland, Maine’s largest city.

Neal Dow, a Union general, entrepreneur and teetotaling crusader, led the push for Maine to ban alcohol in 1851 — years before national Prohibition was enacted in 1918.

Back then, it wasn’t uncommon to see tubs of rum on Portland sidewalks, where anyone could use a dipper to indulge. Church bells tolled at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., signaling rum breaks for workers, said Herb Adams, a former state lawmaker and the city’s unofficial historian.

In Portland, members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, weary of alcohol’s harmful effects on families, harassed saloon operators by showing up with Bibles and singing hymns. They refused to leave until they extracted a promise to stop selling alcohol — and they weren’t above smashing bottles if the proprietor reneged, Adams said.

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