The millions of members of the American Temperance Society, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and other groups believed that banning alcohol could eliminate major social problems like poverty and crime.
These organizations were pretty powerful. But it was hard to persuade people to give up booze when alcoholic beverages were often safer to drink than water.
That’s where the temperance fountain comes in.
Two still stand in Manhattan. One is in Tompkins Square Park, a strange place for a temperance fountain considering that the area was packed with beer-loving Germans at the time.
Donated by a wealthy temperance crusader who had it cast in 1888, it features a bronze figure of the Greek Goddess Hebe, cupbearer to the Gods, on top of a pedestal supported by four columns.
Blocks away on the west side of Union Square is New York’s second remaining temperance fountain. Paid for by another rich temperance convert and dating to 1881, it’s a figure of Charity that really works the innocent mother and children angle.
“Bronze dragonflies and butterflies frolic above the lions,” wrote Kreuzer in The Villager. “Then comes a richly sculpted band of acanthus leaves and birds. The ensemble is topped by a figure of a mother dressed like the Virgin Mary in a Renaissance painting. She holds a child in her right arm, while dispensing water from a jug to another child who looks at her adoringly.”
Both statues are the legacies of the movement that gave us Prohibition—and speakeasies—in the 1920s.
[Top two photos: Wikipedia]