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Bottling Up Emotions?

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Editor’s Note:  Does the lens of emotion bring into focus otherwise vague or unnoticed aspects of temperance campaigns?  Guest blogger Stephanie Olsen, of the recently launched Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, argues yes, it does.

The history of emotions is about showing how emotions themselves have a history (how they change over time) and how they actually help to shape history. It is also about questioning how emotions were instrumentalized in different times and places and to what end. The temperance movement certainly appealed to the emotions, especially when the campaigning was directed at children or when appeals were made to adults to support children’s causes.  No British movement was clearer in this tactic than the Band of Hope.

At its peak the Band of Hope attracted well over three-million juvenile members, all of whom were required to sign a pledge of total abstinence from alcohol. Temperance applied to character as well as to Teetotalism, however.  Through its group meetings and its publications, the organization encouraged children to adhere to strict moral precepts and broad Christian values and to cultivate good character. Emotional conditioning was a clear part of this informal education (through stories, songs, and organized meetings) in a bid to persuade children to remain temperate and responsible, often in contrast to their drunken, dissolute parents.  Fathers in particular were singled out as bad examples, both in their intemperance and for their lack of emotional control.  The Band of Hope’s style of informal education instructed boys in “proper” emotional responses and in appropriate behaviour at home within their families, in school and at work.  It emphasized male moral duties, both in the home and in the wider world.  It was important for the Band of Hope to reach boys while their emotional responses could still be influenced and while these could be manipulated to serve the reforming ends of the movement.  In the words of one Band of Hope recitation, the “boys that are wanted” were the ones who placed the love of home and family above all else:

“Wanted – boys,” this want I find As the city’s wants I read of, And that is so – there’s a certain kind Of boys that the world has need of. The boys that are wanted are sober boys, Unselfish, true and tender; Holding more dear the sweet home joys, Than the club or the ball-room’s splendour.(3)

Not only the positive actions of sobriety and the negative action of staying away from bad influences were required but also the “right” kinds of emotions, of being “Unselfish, true and tender” and of mustering up the “right” emotions at the “right” times, and appreciating the joys of home life.

Signing of Band of Hope pledge

Though the main purpose of the Band of Hope was to promote the temperance movement among the young, wider aims also came into play.  As Band of Hope National Secretary, Robert Tayler, argued in 1946, “A new race of citizens had to be created […]”(4)  This entailed a novel kind of emotional and moral education of young people, and especially boys, to create pious, church or chapel attending, and responsible heads of families and citizens, strong in body and in spirit who would lead moral lives.  Crucially though, the moral life was not seen as an end in itself, even, perhaps surprisingly, for religious youth leaders in the Band of Hope.  Rather, moral education was viewed as an emotional upbringing and maturation, in which boys would discover true fulfilment, happiness, and pride in doing their duty toward their families, communities and the nation.

The emotional strategies of the Band of Hope, their profound impact on the lives of individual children, their families, and communities at large, suggest a rich new avenue of research using the newly honed tools of the history of emotions.  There is promise of a more complete picture, an affective picture, of the temperance movement through a fruitful pairing of temperance history and what some historians are already heralding as the “emotional turn.”


(1)   In 1886 Parliament forbade the sale of liquor to children under thirteen years for consumption on the premises, but there was still concern that children were being given alcohol at home, either as a beverage or as a remedy.

(2)   By 1855, there were so many local bands that a London Union was formed and in 1864, this was expanded to become the United Kingdom Band of Hope Union. The pace accelerated after 1870, when most new Band of Hope societies (and County Unions) were formed. United Kingdom Band of Hope Union Annual Report (1913-14) 5.

(3)   “Boys that are Wanted,” Young Crusader, June (1892): 63.

(4)     Robert Tayler, The Hope of the Race (London: Hope Press, 1946) 15.

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