Moderate drinking and Anstie’s limit (article)

James Kneale and Shaun French, “Moderate drinking before the unit: Medicine and life assurance in Britain and the US c.1860-1930,” Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy 22/2 (April 2015): 111-117.

Author’s abstract: This article describes the way in which ‘Anstie’s Limit’ – a particular definition of moderate drinking first defined in Britain in the 1860s by the physician Francis Edmund Anstie (1833-1874) – became established as a useful measure of moderate alcohol consumption. Becoming fairly well-established in mainstream Anglophone medicine by 1900, it was also communicated to the public in Britain, North America and New Zealand through newspaper reports. However, the limit also travelled to less familiar places, including life assurance offices, where a number of different strategies for separating moderate from excessive drinkers emerged from the dialogue between medicine and life assurance. Whilst these ideas of moderation seem to have disappeared into the background for much of the twentieth century, re-emerging as the ‘J-shaped’ curve, these early developments anticipate many of the questions surrounding uses of the ‘unit’ to quantify moderate alcohol consumption in Britain today. The article will therefore conclude by exploring some of the lessons of this story for contemporary discussions of moderation, suggesting that we should pay more attention to whether these metrics work, where they work and why.

The Annual Temperance Meeting at the Historic Village at Allaire, NJ, March 29, 2015

In 1836, all across the U.S., thousands of indoor and outdoor temperance gatherings took place in which the public was invited to attend and anyone was given the opportunity to sign a pledge of permanent abstinence from alcohol in any form.  Now, in 2015, there is only one such gathering that takes place every year.  This free public Temperance Rally is an historic reenactment of what would have taken place in 1836.

It is also a rare opportunity for any person wanting to take a vow of total abstinence to do so in a publicly sanctioned event specifically intended for just that.
In the first half of the U.S.’s existence, this form of ending alcohol abuse was ubiquitous and undertaken successfully by millions of people by signing the pledge in public. Today, though, addiction treatment and recovery groups discourage making recovery such a short and quick undertaking. The reasons for this change are several and the cause of considerable debate.

Notwithstanding the differing views, attending this Temperance Rally and producing one’s own video or other documentation of taking the abstinence pledge by signing “the book of temperance” may help in avoiding both the huge cost of being professionally treated to not take a drink, and life long attendance in recovery group meetings. Since recovery program involvement is often mandated by a government, employment, or family authority, having hard evidence of avowing to become a teetotaler in a formal public setting designed for that purpose may help assuage their skepticism.

The taking-the-pledge method of recovery certainly used to be as American as apple pie and motherhood. Time will tell whether it will come to be so, again.

Katherine Muller, Volunteer Coordinator at The Historic Village at Allaire, 4263 Atlantic Avenue, Farmingdale, NJ, writes about that day’s events:

“At the scheduled times, which are 1:00 and 2:30, the pledge for temperance is read and the public is encouraged to sign the book of temperance.”

“The temperance rally is more of a continuous presentation throughout the day. We have a group in our group of reenactors in our village called the Temperance and Charitable Society. This group, historically, would be concerned with a number of programs and activities from raising funds for pensioners from the war of 1812, orphans, education, temperance, etc. Throughout the day, the society will discuss these issues and gossip from the village such as the daughter’s of the owner’s upcoming marriage. (Her mother has just passed away and there is speculation about the wedding not being postponed. Traditionally the family should be in mourning for a year or more during which time there should be no weddings.)”

“This year the Temperance Society will be campaigning for signatures to request the General Store to cease its sale of laudanum. Laudanum was a drink often given to women, and sometimes for children, containing opium. It appeared under names such as “mommy’s little helper”.”

“Along with the temperance rally that day we are having a special School Days program. Visitors and their children get to participate in a short school lesson from the time period.”

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The First Christmas Card in 1843 Irked the Ire of Temperance Folk…

…because it showed an adult feeding alcohol from a glass to a child. Here’s the link to the article in the British online newspaper The Independent by Simmy Richman. There was even controversy this year about how to replicate it for a new mass distribution. The article also reports on a scholar postulating the popular song “Jingle Bells” had nothing to do with Christmas, and  was actually a drinking song.

Children drinking alcohol was a very common depiction on post cards well into the twentieth century as can be evidenced by a search on eBay’s Postcard section using the term “new year” or “holiday” and the term “toast”, and it clearly wasn’t just in regards to the analogy of a child representing the new year.