Women's Temperance Movement in Greenfield

Greenfield played an important role in the Women's Temperance Movement. The summary given below is taken from F.R. Harris' book "A Greene Countrie Towne", written in 1954. It gives a vivid description of how a group of ladies were determined to rid the town of liquors. Their actions predated the efforts of women in Hillsboro by eight years!

(You can purchase a copy of "A Greene Countrie Towne" at our Museum Shop.)

The Women's Crusade

We are indebted to the researches of Wilbur McWilliams for a full and explicit account of the most dramatic episode in history of our community—the Women's Crusade. Contrary to popular belief Carrie B. Nation did not originate the direct or hatchet method of sabotaging the liquor traffic. More than a generation before Carrie's hatchet splashed her name on the front page of every newspaper in America, a band of Greenfield women went on a rampage and wrecked the saloons and drug stores of the town. It was a highly exciting and hectic afternoon but in its entirety the affair covered more than two years and ranged all the way from stark tragedy to ludicrous slapstick. On September 3, 1864, young William Blackburn was passing the saloon of Newbeck and Hirn when a stray bullet, fired in the saloon, struck and killed him instantly. No arrests were made. When it became evident that the culprit would never be apprehended, many citizens thought that the time for direct action had arrived.

That section of East Main street from the Public Square to Second street had once been a reputable business section but with the passage of the years merchants had removed their shops "up the hill" to the section adjoining the Public Square, leaving East Main street to saloons and disreputable dives. During the turbulent Civil War period, dealers in spirituous liquors had grown increasingly bold and defiant of public opinion. The manner of young Blackburn's death brought to a head the simmering indignation against the saloons. Public wrath was increased by public drunkenness and fights on the streets, wife beatings, sale of whisky to minors and a general flouting of the law. No decent woman could walk along the street without being insulted. Appeals by church groups brought no improvement in law enforcement. On the rainy morning of July 10, 1865, Mrs. Pearson and Mrs. Crothers were passing one of the saloons when they were pushed off the sidewalk into the gutter by a loutish drunk. They fled to the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Love, called in a few neighbors and held a council of war. They summoned Mayor John Eckman and told him frankly that they intended to take possession of all the liquor in the town and asked him if he would provide a place to store it in the calaboose. The Mayor did not take their declaration seriously. He was amused at their bizarre proposal and refused to have anything to do with it. He observed facetiously that they might return the liquor to Mother Earth from which it came.

The Mayor was not so amused that afternoon when he saw a group of tight-lipped women emerging from the Free Soil church in battle array. They formed a procession and marched up Main street with Mrs. Young, Mrs. Logan and Mrs. Love, who had buried one soldier son, at their head. Behind their leaders the others walked in military double file. The procession stopped at William S. Ling's Drug Store and delivered a combination resolution and ultimatum which declared, "That the ladies of Greenfield are determined to suppress the liquor traffic in their midst. We demand your liquors and give you fifteen minutes to comply with our request or abide the consequences." The startled Mr. Ling merely went inside and locked his door, leaving the ladies outside in the street. The ladies were somewhat nonplussed by Mr. Ling's uncooperative attitude, waited fifteen minutes and then drifted across the street to the Newbeck & Hirn saloon. Forewarned the owners had locked the doors. Someone read the ultimatum but the doors remained locked. The men in the saloon leered at the women through the windows. There was a growing suspicion among the rank and file of the women that the saloon keepers weren't going to surrender their liquors peaceably. Some of the meeker ones whispered of going home.

A dramatic occurrence turned indecision into determination. Mrs. Drusilla Blackburn cried out, "Here is the place my boy was murdered!" Mary Cool acted first. She smashed a window, climbed in and dared the men to stop her while she unlocked the door. Mrs. Blackburn was the first to enter, then her two daughters. The others followed. From the voluminous clothing of the day, hatchets, axes and hammers appeared and bedlam broke loose. In a few minutes Newbeck & Him were out of business. Barrels of whisky and beer were rolled to the sidewalk, the heads knocked in and a flood of assorted liquor filled the gutter and flowed down the hill to old Paint creek. Bottles and jugs were thrown out of the door and smashed on the sidewalk. Suddenly the place was as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. The owners claimed that their loss was five hundred dollars. Flushed with accomplishment and victory and, as some afterwards claimed, slightly intoxicated by the fumes of Newbeck's whiskey, the women returned to Linn's Drug Store. Linn watched the raid from the second-story window. Without further ado, the ladies smashed the door with their axes and swarmed in. At this point the Mayor arrived and tried to stop the raid. He threatened to prosecute every one of the women under the riot act. The women merely ignored him and proceeded to send Linn's liquors to join, those of Newbeck's on the way to the creek. Linn claimed that stock was valued at $1100. The women, followed by the irresolute Mayor, proceeded to Dr. Slagle's Drug Store and read their ultimatum. Dr. Slagle promptly surrendered and told the ladies to take stock which consisted of "four hundred dollars worth of choice liquors." The ladies told Dr. Slagle that they would pay for the liquor at some unspecified future date and expressed their appreciation for his cooperation. Thereupon they threw his stock into gutters. Eighteen months later Dr. Slagle had received no compensation. At the drug store of Robinson & Norton, the ladies found the door unbarred but Mr. Robinson was standing behind the counter with two drawn revolvers. He declared that he would shoot the first person who touched his liquors. He afterwards declared that one revolver was empty and the other had only two cartridges in it. The sight of the revolvers had a sobering effect on the ladies. Mr. Robinson offered to negotiate a settlement. He would ship the liquor out of town the next day if the ladies would leave quietly and not molest anything in the store. With the guns pointing at them, they accepted the proposition and left. Mr. Robinson kept his word. The liquors were shipped out of town the next day.

The next call was Binder's store. Binder offered the same terms and the ladies accepted. Binder also kept his promise. Then the crusaders entered the saloon of James Morris who had "two hundred dollars worth of bad whiskey." Morris listened to the ultimatum and told the ladies to help themselves. They threw the stuff into the gutters. While the raiders were operating elsewhere, Mrs. Wiedenour, who ran a "drinking parlor" where Zinnecker's barber shop is now located, had time to prepare for the callers. When they arrived, they were told that there was no liquor on the premises. Apparently this was true. They searched the barroom and adjoining drinking parlor without finding any whisky. In the drinking parlor everything seemed to be in pious order, with a Bible and hymn book side by side on the center table. But an inquisitive woman lifted the corner of the red tablecloth which adorned the center table and discovered that the table consisted of boards laid on top of a whisky barrel. Mrs. Wiedenour's whisky promptly went down the hill. Except for the Mayor no one made any effort to stop the raid. It was reported that Fred Marks, the village marshal, hearing of the raid, had gone fishing. A joyous crowd followed the ladies, some giving advice and encouragement. Three gentlemen who showed the ladies the best method of knocking in the head of a barrel were later arrested as active participants. Others sang an improvised song:

"Tramp, tramp, tramp, the girls are marching,
Don't you hear the hatchets at the door?
Oh, good Mr. Linn, they are spilling out your gin,
And you'll never sell to minors any more."

It was a field day for the chronic inebriates of the community. Appalled at the sinful waste of so much good liquor - it is estimated that between 2500 and 3000 gallons were dumped into the streets - they began salvage operations. Broken bottles and jugs were pressed into service and filled with the liquor flowing down the gutters. It was a rainy afternoon in the horse-and-buggy era and the liquor was somewhat diluted. The women chased the salvage crew, knocking the bottles out of their hands. They managed to consume a lot of liquor, however, in hasty gulps. Some tried to drink directly from the gutters. One woman rushed at one such imbiber and dunked his head in the liquor until he almost strangled. Another drinker who was a great temperance advocate when in his cups joined the women in a frenzy of zeal for their cause. An innocent bystander slipped off the sidewalk and landed in the gutter just as a barrel of beer was being dumped a few feet upstream. He was completely inundated. One shrewd wit, late from the Emerald Isle, outgeneraled two young women who were chasing him down an alley. Balancing the jug upon his shoulders, he loosened his suspenders and let them fall at the psychological moment. His timing was perfect. His pursuers fled in consternation.

On the following day, the dealers began criminal action against the raiders, filing their affidavit in Hillsboro as "no officers could be found in Greenfield willing to issue process or to arrest the parties accused." The affidavit was signed by William S. Linn. Warrants were issued for the arrest of fifty-seven of the women participants and for the husbands of eleven as being responsible for the conduct of their wives. They were charged with "having on the tenth day of July, 1865, unlawfully, willfully and maliciously destroyed the personal property of William S. Linn to the value of $1100." Constable Manning of Hillsboro served the warrants. The defendants appeared before Squire G. W. Sellers in Greenfield on July 17, pleaded not guilty and waived examination. The case was referred to the common pleas court in Hillsboro. Bonds ranging from $100 to $400 were promptly furnished. The Prosecuting Attorney for Highland county was William Harvey Irwin of Greenfield, an acquaintance of all the accused and doubtless sympathetic to their cause. At the October term of court, the Grand Jury had a busy session. It examined 104 witnesses, found 32 bills of indictment but returned no indictment against any of the raiders. In present day terminology it ignored the case. The dealers promptly brought civil action for damages in the name of Linn against approximately the same number of defendants.

Through a series of postponements and legal maneuverings the case did not come before Judge Albert S. Dickey, also from Greenfield, until January, 1867. The ladies who were charged in the suit arrived in Hillsboro by train and were met at the station by most of the population of the town. They were given an enthusiastic reception, taken as guests to the finest homes in the town where they were entertained for the duration of the trial. On the streets and in the court room they were treated as conquering heroines. None of the active leaders of the raid were named in either the civil or criminal actions. Mrs. Blackburn, in particular, would have created too much sympathy for the defense. The array of legal talent included Judge Robert Briggs of Fayette county, young Henry L. Dickey of Greenfield, later a Congressman, Steele who was to become a famous Judge and James Sloan, formerly a judge of the same court, in charge of the case for the plaintiffs. Judge Stanley Matthews was in charge of the defendants' case. Associated with him were young Mills Gardner and William Harvey Irwin.

Judge Sloan was a brilliant man. He must have lived four of the most exasperating days of his eminent career. His adroit questionings brought no results, he could get nothing out of any of the women. He could not discover who instigated the meeting, conducted it, who wrote the ultimatum or who were present. A court reporter for a Cincinnati daily wrote, "The testimony of the lady defendants reveals a most perfect Know-Nothingism. It must not be said any longer that females cannot keep a secret. Greenfield would be a good place to start a female secret society." However, Sloan was able with other testimony, including the Son of Erin who had almost sacrificed his pants to save his whisky, that there had actually been a raid, that Linn's property had been destroyed and that at least some of the defendants had had an active part in it.

All of the attorneys had a part in the final arguments. Sloan talked for three hours, Matthews for four. On the night of January 23, the jury retired. Eighteen hours later they returned to the court with a verdict. It awarded Linn $625 damages. His lawyers' fees had amounted to more than that. The defense immediately gave notice of appeal. The dealers asked for a conference, accepted nominal damages and dropped the suit. As usual in such controversial cases, there had to be a goat. In this instance it was Judge John Eckman. From the evidence it appears that he had made just one mistake. He didn't think the women would do it. Judge Matthews was in fine fettle when he discussed this phase of the case. "The ladies of Greenfield," he said, "had their municipal corporation and, priceless treasure! a Mayor; and in their extremity they sent for this embodiment of municipal authority — the highest functionary within their reach the Mayor of their little commonwealth." Judge Matthews continued in this vein, castigating the Mayor for his refusal to provide a place for the storage of the liquor and particularly for his sarcastic advice to consign it to Mother Earth. "The idea of spilling the liquor," he continued, "originated in the breast of Mayor Eckman. If Mayor Eckman had been as wise as he looks he would not have said that."

The Women's Raid marks a milestone in the history of the temperance movement. It added a militant note which had been lacking in the past, a religious fervor which is the distinguishing characteristic of all great movements whether they succeed or fail. The crusading spirit of the women of Greenfield was the well-spring from which came the Praying Crusade which was launched in neighboring Hillsboro eight years later from which came the Women's Christian Temperance Union and, still later, the Anti-Saloon League and National Prohibition. The trial of the ladies of Greenfield who had wielded the hatchet and the axe so effectively, fully reported in the papers of the day, dramatized as nothing else could have done the evils of the liquor traffic. The militancy of their methods were not adopted but the militancy of their spirit undoubtedly exerted a tremendous influence on the whole future course of the battle against the saloon.

The Greenfield Historical Society
PO Box 266
Greenfield, Ohio 45123