We here at Points are very excited to present the second installment of guest blogger Gretchen Pierce’s three-part series on the cultural of alcohol in early twentieth-century Mexico (part one may be found here). Gretchen is an Assistant Professor of History at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. The work in this piece comes from Dr. Pierce’s extensive research in the Archivo General de la Nación, Archivo Histórico del Estado de Sonora, Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Educación Pública, Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia, and the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada.
In April 1930, Luis G. Franco, chief of the Mexican government’s Comité Nacional de Lucha contra el Alcoholismo (CNLCA, the National Committee of Struggle Against Alcoholism), gave a radio speech aimed specifically at women. Addressing them as “su majestad” (“her majesty”), Franco beseeched females to play a role in the nascent anti-alcohol campaign of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and would continue until 1940. According to Franco and the CNLCA, alcohol had destroyed the home, as drunken men physically abused their families and neglected their monetary responsibilities. In this and other radio programs, pamphlets, and miscellaneous propaganda, reformers urged women to participate in the anti-alcohol campaign, believing women to be the primary victims of the country’s problem drinkers. In turn, many females responded enthusiastically to anti-alcohol campaigns, and in doing so, contributed to the larger state-building project of the Mexican Revolution. Ironically, though, they faced many challenges in their battle to promote sobriety, thanks often to the leaders who they were supposed to be assisting.
Although there were some exceptions to the rule, Mexican temperance advocates in the period from 1910-1940 believed that the group most prone to alcohol abuse was working-class men. This stereotype can be seen in a drawing from a pamphlet used to advertise a national anti-alcohol conference in October 1936. At the bottom of this picture – which I will refer to as “Figure 1” – sits a goblet, presumably filled with an intoxicant. Its noxious fumes snake upwards and wreak havoc upon the surrounding people: a man appearing to be in a drunken stupor (while the shadowy figure of death looms above him), another one who has passed out, and a third, knife-wielding one, who has been driven to crime. The class and ethnicity of the men can be determined from the clothes they are wearing. The figures in the top center and to the left (the passed out one and the criminal, respectively) wear overalls commonly associated with urban laborers, and the figure at the bottom center (the one in a daze) wears the white cotton shirt typically sported by peasants.
According to government officials and members of the CNLCA, men composed the bulk of problem drinkers and women disproportionately suffered the consequences. On the right side of the image is a sad-looking woman holding a sickly baby. If she was married to any of the men in the image, she would have a number of things to worry about. Drinkers, like the man holding the knife, supposedly engaged in high rates of crime, both on the streets and in the home. Even if she were not being abused directly, she might have to worry about her husband being thrown in jail and having to pay his bail. Should her husband avoid jail time, he still might be too besotted to work on a regular basis, limiting her ability to feed her child. This child may have had a mental or physical ailment passed on to it by its alcoholic father (or so reformers at the time believed). All of these problems stemmed from men’s abuse of intoxicating beverages.