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American Women Who Drink (1871)

The press has lately been agitating to a considerable extent the question as to whether intemperance among women is increasing so much as some of the published statements of physicians and others would lead us to suppose, and from my own observation I am compelled to believe that this vice is growing to such an alarming extent that unless it is checked, and that speedily, the next generation will be born drunkards, and die drunkards.

Even as I write there comes over me the recollection of a bright, piquant little lady in Washington, the mother of a lovely boy, the wife of a good, kind husband, whom we all liked, and who was the life of any party she joined, and of home. We ladies used to wonder why her husband would never allow her to enter the general parlor where we all sat in the evening, sometimes entertained for hours by the interesting conversation of Mrs. Gaine’s and other witty ladies. We thought he was rather strict with his bright young wife, but afterwards found he was right, for she was addicted to drinking intoxicating liquors.

I refused to believe it at first, until one evening when she had stolen into the parlor, she executed a can-can before a minister of the government, when my faith in her began to waver; but not until the day of our departure when I went to her room to say good-bye was I convinced that she really was a slave to the demon. She met us at the door with a stagger, her dress disarranged, and with her tongue so thick she could scarcely utter the farewell words that come to her lips. I left her, sick at heart, saying, “God pity that little family.” She had alcoholic drink prescribed to her by a physician, and that is how she became a drunkard.

Two other cases are within a stone’s throw of me at this moment.

One a married lady in good position, with two children, who frequently appears at the public table of her hotel grossly intoxicated, eats in a disgusting manner, and makes hideous faces at the waiters. Her husband, a meek, patient, sober man, still loves her, and shields her from the effects of this unfortunate habit, as far as lies in his power, only the look of suffering in his eyes tells of his martyrdom.

The other is a young married lady, the wife of an officer, who, when sober, is a bright conversationalist; when intoxicated is a coarse, unrefined woman, devoid of modesty or honor, and, with sorrow I say it, she is more frequently drunk than sober. Her husband is no better, and while she parades the streets with other gentlemen he is reported to be equally engaged with other ladies; and I have no doubt her infidelity was caused by intemperance, though I cannot tell how she first came to acquire this appetite for strong drink.

In New York there is a lady formerly in high standing, who has become a confirmed inebriate. Her mother, a very distinguished lady, has done ail that affection could suggest to reclaim her, but all in vain. I wonder what kind of a woman her daughter will make?

And now I come to a case so sad that it makes my heart ache to think of it—a lady born and bred in the most refined circles of a neighboring city, possessed of an uncommon share of personal beauty, fascinating in her manners, well educated, and who ought to be the pride of her husband, but is not. She was married when a child almost, and her mate has outgrown his affection for her, or more likely he married her money instead of her. She has been a great suffrer from neuralgia, and her physicians have prescribed stimulants until she is slowly but surely drifting into intemperance. I have remonstrated with her several times, but with no effect, as she will not believe she is in any danger, yet I have seen her, if not positively intoxicated, at least very much affected by liquor. I believe the poor creature feels that it is not much matter whether she drifts into drunkenness or not. She has been blackened and bruised by blows from the man who should protect her; has submitted to all kinds of outrages at his hands; and while she does not pretend to love him, still continues to live with him for the sake of her children, two beautiful daughters, three years of age. When asked by a friend why she did not leave him, and try to support herself, she replied that she did not have health and strength enough to battle single-handed with the world, and that her husband said if she did so, he would have the children, in spite of the law, and would hide them where she would never see them again. So she suffers on, and drowns her pain in drink, and is floating out on the great sea of intemperance, whose advancing tide will, sooner or later, drown her womanhood and leave her a wreck of her present self.

Now, these cases I know of, and though not old, I can remember a time when a drunken woman among the better classes was an unknown thing. Dr. Anstie may advocate moderate drinking for women; but when I look around and see the evil effects of it, I feel as if I must lift my feeble voice against it, and entreat the women of this land to banish liquors totally from their homes, their tables and medicine chests.

It is true that many ladies in New York and Brooklyn had no wine upon their New Year tables; but these were the exceptions. Let them become the rule. Dr. Holmes says “ temperance must not only be made respectable, but fashionable,” And now, will not the mothers rise up, and, by example or by making it “fashionable,” fight this monster which is encircling not only their sons, but their fair young daughters, in its hateful embrace?

Those ladies who have a passion for tea-parties should remember that tattle begins with T

Source: The Revolution, March 30, 1871

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