Julia Skelly, “Object Lessons: The Social Life of Temperance Banners,” published online 20 May 2016 in Academia.  Textile: Cloth and Culture (Routledge)


Banners were the primary textile of choice for Canadian members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on the methodology proposed by Arjun Appadurai in The Social Life of Things, as well as on feminist scholarship by Rozsika Parker, Lisa Tickner, and Patricia Mainardi, among others, this article traces the various stages in the “social life” of a set of temperance banners that were rediscovered in 1984 at the bottom of a filing cabinet drawer. The primary objective is to illuminate not only the stages of the banners’ biography (Birth, Social Life, Hibernation, and Renaissance), but also the reasons why the banners were created (or born) in the first place, why they were perceived by members of the WCTU as important, even talismanic, objects, why they eventually lost their ostensible power, and why they could experience a Renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s. It is proposed that in order to understand this series of events, we must look closely at intersecting discourses related to gender, alcohol consumption, and textiles.