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Who had the power to be heard?

In 1874, the temperance women of Bloomington worked hard to get an ordinance passed that would prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Bloomington's Temperance League

Led by Anna Clifford Read Bloomington’s Temperance League was formed in 1874. The group soon began efforts to stop the licensing of alcohol sales in Bloomington.


Bloomington's Saloon Keepers

Bloomington’s saloon keepers made their living selling alcoholic beverages to their customers. They made every effort to stop the temperance movement. So too did the residents of McLean County who enjoyed their drink.

Who had the power?

Because they could not vote, the women of Bloomington’s Temperance League circulated a pamphlet appealing to the legal voters of the city, and canvassed the city block by block for signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of the laws licensing saloons.

Could we but vote ourselves, we would sweep, if possible, this traffic from the face of the earth; but as we have no voice in the election of your officers, we appeal to you, our natural protectors and guardians, in the name of God and humanity, to deliver us, through the ballot box, from one of the greatest curses that ever afflicted the race.
— Anna Clifford Read
Bloomington Pantagraph, April 24, 1874

Anna Clifford Read and her husband Gordon made their home “a harbor of refuge” for victims of the drink habit—it was part of their effort to eliminate alcoholism.

The Temperance League admonished the city council saying “licensing revenue is very largely derived from the families of heart-broken wives, and destitute children.” Members of the league argued:

  1. Men who drink spend money on liquor that should be spent at home; time that men spend in saloons is time away from home.
  2. Alcohol is addictive and debilitating and impoverishes families by destroying men's ability to work.
  3. Drunken men are violent, likely to beat their wives and perhaps children or other members of the families as well.

The Temperance League soon had 3,407 signatures on their petition, which they took to the city council.

A Referendum on the Ballot

But instead of acting directly on their petition, the council placed the licensing question on the ballot in the form a referendum. They promised they would vote in favor of the referendum if it was passed by the voters.

In the days prior to the April 20, 1874 vote, the League’s members solicited voters, circulated literature, spoke at meetings in their churches and prayed. 

On the eve of the election they decided to demonstrate at the polls the next day. At 8 a.m. that morning, they met at the First Methodist Church, prayed together, and then dispatched in groups of five to the various polling places in Bloomington’s six wards. 

Others placed “Vote for Temperance” placards in street cars, at the post office, in store windows, and at the voting places.

Vote for Temperance placard.

Women across the U.S. were making every effort to eliminate alcoholism. But the saloon keepers would not have it.

Credit: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine, February 1874

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The Outcome of the Vote

When the outcome of the vote was announced at 11 p.m. that evening, the women of Bloomington’s Temperance League—none of whom cast a single vote, but instead used the power of their voices—learned they had won the referendum against the selling of liquor by 159 votes.

But the celebration was short-lived.

Reflection Questions

How effective was were members of Bloomington’s Temperance League in making their voices heard?

Did their efforts result in change? Why or why not?

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