Scientific Temperance Federation Publication

Scientific Temperance Federation

  • In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States was in the midst of a social movement aimed at eliminating alcohol consumption. One of the major forces behind this movement was the Scientific Temperance Federation (STF), an organization that advocated for scientific research to prove the harmful effects of alcohol and promoted education to discourage its use. 

Origins of the Scientific Temperance Federation

The Scientific Temperance Federation was a movement that emerged in the United States in the late 19th century, dedicated to promoting abstinence from alcohol as a means of improving public health and social well-being. The movement was founded in 1906, but its roots can be traced back to earlier efforts to address the problem of alcoholism in American society.

In the mid-19th century, alcohol consumption in the United States was at an all-time high, with many Americans drinking heavily on a regular basis. This had a profound impact on public health, with alcohol-related diseases and accidents causing significant harm to individuals and communities alike. In response, a number of temperance organizations were formed, dedicated to promoting abstinence from alcohol as a means of reducing the harms associated with alcohol consumption. These organizations ranged from grassroots groups to more formalized movements, and they often used a combination of educational campaigns, legal advocacy, and social pressure to achieve their goals.

One of the most influential of these organizations was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1873 by a group of women concerned about the impact of alcohol on their families and communities. The WCTU quickly became a major force in American society, with chapters in every state and a wide range of activities focused on promoting temperance and other social reforms. The Scientific Temperance Federation emerged out of this broader temperance movement, as a group dedicated specifically to using scientific research to support the case for abstinence from alcohol. The Federation was founded in 1906 by Mary Hunt, a prominent temperance advocate who had previously worked with the WCTU and other organizations.

Hunt believed that the temperance movement needed to move beyond moral appeals and emotional appeals to reason, evidence, and scientific data. She believed that if the public could be presented with clear and compelling evidence about the harms of alcohol, they would be more likely to support abstinence as a public health measure.

To this end, the Scientific Temperance Federation began conducting research into the effects of alcohol on the body and mind, as well as the social and economic impacts of alcohol consumption. The organization also developed educational materials and campaigns, aimed at educating the public about the dangers of alcohol and promoting abstinence as a positive choice. Over the next several decades, the Scientific Temperance Federation would become one of the most influential temperance organizations in the United States, playing a major role in the passage of Prohibition and other alcohol-related legislation. While the organization has since faded into obscurity, its legacy can still be seen in the ongoing efforts to address alcoholism and promote public health in the United States and around the world.

The Scientific Approach to Temperance

The Scientific Temperance Federation (STF) was founded in 1906 with the goal of promoting the scientific approach to temperance. The organization believed that alcoholism was a disease and that the only effective way to combat it was through education and prevention. The STF viewed alcoholism as a public health problem, and they worked to develop scientific methods to understand and prevent it. They believed that education was key to preventing alcoholism, and they developed a curriculum to teach children about the dangers of alcohol.

The STF also believed that prohibition was not the answer to the problem of alcoholism. They believed that education and prevention were more effective in reducing alcohol consumption and preventing alcoholism. One of the most significant achievements of the STF was the development of the “scientific temperance instruction” program. This program was designed to teach children about the effects of alcohol on the body and mind. The curriculum was based on scientific research and was designed to be age-appropriate and engaging.

The program was successful in reducing alcohol consumption among young people. Studies showed that children who received scientific temperance instruction were less likely to drink alcohol than those who did not receive the instruction. The STF also worked to promote the scientific study of alcoholism. They funded research projects and published scientific papers on the topic. They believed that understanding the biological and psychological factors that contribute to alcoholism was essential to developing effective prevention and treatment strategies.

The STF’s approach to temperance was based on the belief that alcoholism was a disease that could be prevented and treated through scientific methods. They believed that education and prevention were key to reducing alcohol consumption and preventing alcoholism. Their scientific temperance instruction program was highly effective in reducing alcohol consumption among young people, and their research contributed significantly to our understanding of alcoholism. Despite the STF’s efforts, alcoholism remains a significant public health problem. However, their scientific approach to temperance continues to influence the way we understand and address the issue today.

The STF’s Impact on American Society

The Scientific Temperance Federation (STF) had a significant impact on American society during the early 20th century. Through its educational campaigns and lobbying efforts, the STF played a key role in advancing the cause of temperance and promoting the idea of abstinence from alcohol. The STF was successful in influencing public opinion on alcohol consumption. By promoting scientific studies on the effects of alcohol on the body and society, the STF persuaded many Americans to view alcohol as a harmful substance that should be avoided. The STF’s efforts also led to the creation of temperance societies, which encouraged abstinence from alcohol and promoted a more sober lifestyle.

The STF’s message was reflected in popular culture, as well. The prohibition era gave rise to a new wave of entertainment that portrayed the dangers of alcohol. Books, movies, and music often featured characters who suffered from alcoholism and the negative consequences that came with it. One of the primary ways in which the STF sought to influence American society was through its education campaigns. The organization produced a wide range of educational materials, including pamphlets, books, and films, that were distributed to schools, churches, and other community organizations.

These educational materials emphasized the dangers of alcohol consumption and the benefits of abstinence. They highlighted the negative effects of alcohol on the body and mind, as well as its role in promoting crime, poverty, and other social ills. By disseminating this information widely, the STF was able to reach a large audience and build public support for its cause. In addition to its education campaigns, the STF also engaged in lobbying efforts to promote the cause of temperance. The organization worked to pass laws that restricted the sale and consumption of alcohol, including prohibition laws at the state and national level.

The STF’s advocacy for temperance and prohibition had a significant impact on American law. The 18th Amendment was the first time the U.S. Constitution was amended to restrict personal behavior. It was also the first time the federal government took an active role in regulating the sale and consumption of alcohol. Prohibition had several unintended consequences, including a rise in crime and a decline in tax revenue. The failure of prohibition led to the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, which is the only time a constitutional amendment has been repealed.

Scientific Temperance Federation Successes

The Scientific Temperance Federation (STF) enjoyed great success in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, as the years passed, the organization began to lose momentum and influence. This decline can be attributed to a number of factors, including changing attitudes towards alcohol and the rise of other social movements. One major reason for the decline of the STF was the changing social and political climate of the early 20th century. By the 1920s, prohibition had become a major political issue in the United States. Many advocates of temperance began to focus their efforts on enacting laws that would ban alcohol outright, rather than promoting moderation and education.

The STF, however, remained committed to its original mission of promoting scientific temperance. As a result, the organization found itself increasingly at odds with the growing prohibition movement. Many temperance advocates saw the STF as too moderate and ineffective, and the organization struggled to maintain its relevance in the face of this criticism. Another factor that contributed to the decline of the STF was the changing attitudes towards alcohol among the general public. While temperance had been a popular cause in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by the 1920s and 30s, many Americans had grown tired of the strict moral codes and prohibitions of the temperance movement.

This shift in public opinion was reflected in the media, as well. The once-popular anti-alcohol propaganda of the STF was now seen as outdated and overly moralistic. As a result, the organization’s message was no longer resonating with the general public, and its influence began to wane. Despite these challenges, the STF continued to promote scientific temperance well into the mid-20th century. However, by the 1950s and 60s, the organization had become largely irrelevant. The rise of other social movements, such as civil rights and women’s liberation, had captured the attention of the American public, and the STF’s message of temperance and moderation seemed outdated and out of touch.

Today, the Scientific Temperance Federation is largely forgotten, remembered only by historians and scholars of the temperance movement. However, its legacy lives on in the ongoing efforts to promote education and moderation when it comes to alcohol and other substances. While the STF may have faded from public view, its message of scientific temperance remains as relevant today as it was over a century ago.

Lessons from the Scientific Temperance Federation

The Federation’s advocacy and education campaigns helped to bring about the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in 1920. However, the Federation’s methods were often questionable, and its scientific claims were sometimes dubious. Despite these flaws, there are some important lessons that can be learned from the Federation’s history.

Beware of Pseudoscience: The Scientific Temperance Federation claimed to be a scientific organization, but many of its claims were not based on sound scientific research. Instead, the Federation relied on sensationalist stories and scare tactics to convince people of the dangers of alcohol. This approach ultimately undermined the Federation’s credibility and contributed to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.  Today, we must be cautious of organizations and individuals who claim to have scientific evidence to support their claims but fail to provide rigorous research to back up their claims. It is essential to critically evaluate the sources of information we encounter and be aware of the potential for bias and manipulation.

The Importance of Education and Advocacy: Despite its flaws, the Scientific Temperance Federation was successful in mobilizing public opinion and influencing policy through its educational campaigns and advocacy efforts. The Federation’s efforts to promote temperance and discourage alcohol consumption contributed to the passage of Prohibition in the United States. Education and advocacy remain essential tools for promoting public health and safety. By providing accurate information and mobilizing public support, advocates can influence policy and promote positive changes in society.

The Dangers of Moral Panic: The Scientific Temperance Federation was founded during a time of moral panic around alcohol consumption. Many Americans were convinced that alcohol was a significant threat to society and that drastic measures were necessary to combat its harmful effects. Moral panic can lead to extreme and unjustified actions, such as Prohibition, which had significant unintended consequences, including the rise of organized crime and the loss of tax revenue. It is essential to carefully consider the evidence and avoid making decisions based on fear and hysteria.

The Need for Evidence-Based Policy: The Scientific Temperance Federation’s focus on sensationalism and scare tactics overshadowed its reliance on evidence-based research. This approach ultimately undermined the Federation’s credibility and contributed to the failure of Prohibition. Today, evidence-based policy is more important than ever, especially in the face of complex and challenging issues such as substance abuse, climate change, and public health. Policymakers must rely on scientific research and data to inform their decisions and prioritize evidence-based interventions that are proven to be effective.


Despite its successes, the Federation faced challenges in the early 20th century as the temperance movement began to lose momentum. The rise of the anti-prohibition movement and the repeal of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933 marked the end of the era of temperance in the United States. However, the legacy of the Federation and the temperance movement lives on in the modern era. The scientific approach to understanding the effects of alcohol on the body and society has led to continued efforts to promote responsible drinking and to reduce alcohol-related harm. Furthermore, the Federation’s emphasis on the importance of education and public awareness has influenced modern approaches to public health and social advocacy. Today, organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids continue the tradition of the Federation by using scientific evidence and public education to promote healthier lifestyles and social responsibility.