The seventeenth entry in “The Points Interview” series features Scott Martin’s Devil of the Domestic Sphere: Temperance, Gender, and Middle-Class Ideology, 1800-1860 (Northern Illinois University Press, 2008; a paperback edition appeared in 2010). Scott Martin is chair of the Department of History at Bowling Green State University, and the current Vice-President of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.
Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
My book is about the development of temperance reform as a crucial part of middle-class ideology during the first half of the nineteenth century. A growing group of what we would now recognize as middle-class citizens – merchants, ministers, doctors, prosperous farmers – became concerned about excessive drinking, and created voluntary organizations to promote their approach to temperance, or limiting alcohol use. In the process, they also articulated ideas about what it meant to be middle-class (respectability, sobriety, morality) and about what womanhood meant in the emerging capitalist society. Drunkenness, largely considered to be a male vice, was bad because it injured innocent women and children as well as society. Alcohol invaded the home in the form of drunken fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, making it impossible for middle-class women to maintain the kind of nurturing domestic environment needed
to support families and, through them, the larger society. Women’s injury through male drinking proved a powerful public relations tool for temperance activists, but it depended on an image of women as devoted, long-suffering, and tied to the home. When women themselves wanted to participate actively in temperance reform, men rebuffed them. The development of this notion of middle-class womanhood complicated meaningful temperance reform and pushed some women to explore other avenues for gaining a voice, notably woman’s rights and woman suffrage movements.
What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
I hope that my book makes clear the connection between gender ideology, class, and the reform of psychoactive substances – in this case alcohol.