By: Abbey Walker, Wylie House Museum Assistant
In the dining room press of the Wylie house is a collection of china. Among the most discussed are Margaret Wylie’s hand-painted tea cup, which illustrates one of the first depictions of the IU insignia, and the Theophilus Wylie plate, which denotes the years he acted as president of Indiana University. Less visible and rarely acknowledged is a small, octagonal plate with an illustration of Father Matthew administering the total abstinence pledge, an oath to remain sober for life (figure 2). Manufactured sometime within the years 1838 and 1845, the Father Matthew plate was gifted to the museum by Wylie descendant Morton C. Bradley, and it may have belonged to the Theophilus Wylie family. Although Theophilus Wylie did not entirely abstain from alcohol as Father Matthew preached, he did practice and advocate for temperance. Temperance was the idea that the consumption of alcohol should be limited as overindulgence was believed to cause immorality, poverty, and poor health.
Support for the Temperance Movement was fervent during the 1860s-1900s, the same time that Theophilus and his family lived at the Wylie House. Although anti-alcohol beliefs have existed since antiquity, it was not until the mid-19th century that an organized effort gained momentum in the United States, largely due to the astounding rates of alcohol consumption at the time. In 1830, Americans drank an average of 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol a year compared to the 2.3 gallons consumed today (Benckhuysen, 2019). Theophilus Wylie himself explores the roots and perils of the 19th century alcohol epidemic in a diary entry in which he writes about his experience with an intoxicated youth:
“On coming home from Chapel, found a poor drunken boy — perhaps 13 or 14 yrs old lying or sitting on Campbell’s wall near the bridge. He told me his name was Farsan, a lie by the way, [I] found out that the name was Alonzo Taylor. He had a small bottle of Whiskey in his hand. I spoke to him & told him he had better break it. He immediately dashed it against the stones & lost its contents. On moving a little distance to speak to some young men, I noticed that he had another bottle. On approaching him, he threw himself or bent himself and covered the bottle with his side & arm — & told me to break it — this I could not do — he soon on my withdrawing broke it to pieces — I picked up a portion of the bottle, the lower part. Could see that from the label that it was perfectly pure whiskey made in Kentucky. The bottle was not large — would hold about a half pint. He staggered across the bridge & sat down on the wall & drew out of another pocke’t another bottle — this he also broke. He said he got them from Jim Kelly — & I think he had five. Could not find exactly where he lived, but some little boys went to the house of his mother & sisters, who came & with the assistance of the two young men led the poor boy home — A number of people had collected, I told them that we had in this boy an excellent temperance lecture — What ought to be done to the miscreants who give or sell strong drink to minors or anybody.”
The young boy’s dependence on alcohol may have been encouraged by the customary recommendation of using “small amounts of alcohol as a form of medical treatment” (McAlister, 2012). During the 19th century, alcohol was commonly utilized as an anaesthetic and antiseptic; certain sects of the Temperance movement permitted its use in medicinal contexts. The use of alcohol within religious communities was no less complicated. Wine was often used in important spiritual rites, such as Catholic communion, in which the drink symbolized a reconnection with Christ and a spiritual rebirth. At the same time, the Temperance movement was largely founded upon Presbyterianism theology (the same denomination of Christianity practiced by both Wylie families), which used religious motifs to illustrate the moral dangers of alcohol not only to adults but also to children.
One may ask: why preach Temperance to children? Joseph Livesey, an English Temperance advocate, stated that by “addressing children, we are, through them, addressing many others, older people, whom we cannot see” (McAlister, 2012). In other words, alcoholism affected not only those who consumed the alcohol but also their friends, family, and acquaintances Among these invisible people were women. Women during the 19th century were relegated to domestic duties and therefore had a much weaker social presence than their male counterparts, yet they were no less affected by the overconsumption of alcohol. One Temperance organization, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, “advocated for women to take a leading role in opposing alcohol consumption, [by] claiming that women and children were most often the victims of its abuse” (Hedeen, 2011). As a result, it became customary to market the Temperance movement to impressionable children who had not yet been exposed to alcohol. By instilling anti-alcohol beliefs first through children, who would then model these beliefs to their parents, the movement began to enact change from the bottom to the top. It is likely that through educational mediums like the Father Matthew children’s plate, Theophilus and his wife, Rebecca, disseminated similar ideals to their six children.
Little is known about the Father Matthew plate itself. The plate is a product of transfer printing, a process in which an engraved, flat copper plate is used to transfer a design onto a sheet of paper which is then permanently impressed onto a ceramic body. Transferware is notable for being easy, fast, and cheap to produce, making its manufacture one of the first methods of production that made decorated ceramics accessible to the 19th century’s working class. The illustrative quality of transferware was also a popular means to educate children since their interpretation of written messages was limited by their level of literacy. Illustrations made it easier to comprehend and remember the accompanying text on Temperance transferware. Since Temperance-movement children’s wares were extremely popular and accessible, it is believed that thousands of identical Father Matthew plates were manufactured (Siddall, 2020), making the Wylie’s unassuming plate on of many throughout the United States. The image itself has been reproduced onto other ceramics as well with slight variations to the illustration. The Father Matthew plate is a very small portion of the larger Temperance argument that was disseminated through tangible media.
The visual arguments employed by 19th century Temperance transferware are often categorized by appeals to morality, wealth, and health. The morality category greatly coincides with social and spiritual constructs engendered by religious practices, particularly Presbyterianism. The Father Matthew plate fits most easily into this category as it illustrates the administering of a Temperance oath by a man of God. This argument is significant in comparison to other Temperance transferware in that it does not employ fatalistic narratives, such as the “road to ruin”, which depicts, step-by-step, the “downward spiral from respectability and sobriety to dunkness and moral degradation” (Murray, 2012). Much of the Temperance transferware produced during the 19th century utilizes such arguments that today would be considered scare tactics similar to the ones proliferated by D.A.R.E and the War on Drugs agenda. One infamous example is The Bottle by George Cruikshank (figure 4), which is largely considered the first visual depiction of alcoholism which “at last matched and even overtook the force of the written word” (Murray, 2012).
Threats to wealth, the second rhetorical strategy employed by the Temperance movement, “presented images that depict alcohol as a waste of resources, which could be better used as food and for energy in production” (McAliser, 2012). This argument likely resonated most with adults who were fiscally responsible, but the rhetorical strategy was still present in children’s Temperance imagery and practices. An example is “How Jack’s Father Spent the Beer Money” (figure 5). Tying alcoholism to poverty was an effective method of instilling Temperance beliefs as it appealed to the notion that economic stability is necessary for survival while also acknowledging that the issue is most prevalent amongst the impoverished. Other Temperance arguments further related alcoholism and poverty to children themselves, with statements such as “Drink steals the children’s food” (McAlister, 2012) effectively communicating how alcoholism disproportionately affects our posterity.
Even today, anti-alcohol campaigns appeal to our survival instincts by demonstrating the detrimental effect alcohol has on our bodies. In the 19th century, “children were shocked with graphic images which established the physical danger that alcohol consumption posed to health” (McAllister, 2012). One example is The Stomach (figure 6), which illustrates the physical toll excessive alcohol consumption they believed to have on our bodies. Again, this argument largely employs scare tactics, which “emphasize the worst dangers of drug use in order to create fear and anxiety, in hopes that the fear alone will prevent or stop risky behaviors” (Malich and Stone, September), to persuade audiences that alcohol has a detrimental effect on health. The effectiveness of such scare tactics has been contested by modern day psychology and studies examining the efficacy of anti-drug and alcohol campaigns, such as D.A.R.E.
Through examination of Wylie artifacts and ephemera, it is unclear if Theophilus Wylie and his family advocated for Temperance arguments beyond appeals to moral and religious integrity, as is evident in the religious administration of the abstinence pledge of the Father Matthew plate. The plate itself is a novelty of the museum, not because the item itself is particularly rare or unique, but because no similar artifacts have yet been uncovered in the rich history of the Wylie family.
Benckhuysen, Amanda Joyce. The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation. IVP Academic, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019.
Hedeen, Jane. “The Road to Prohibition in Indiana.” IndianaHistory.org, Indiana Historical Society, 2011,
Malich, Sarah and Stone, Molly. Why Scare Tactics Don’t Work. September. http://dhhr.wv.gov/bhhf/ibhc/Documents/Presentations1115/Scare%20Tactics%20BH%20conference%20%2082115.pdf. PowerPoint Presentation
Mcallister, Annemarie. “Picturing the Demon Drink: How Children Were Shown Temperance Principles in the Band of Hope.” Visual Resources, vol. 28, no. 4, 2012, pp. 309–323., doi:10.1080/01973762.2012.732029.
Murray, Frank. “Picturing the ‘Road to Ruin’: Visual Representations of a Standard Temperance Narrative, 1830–1855.” Visual Resources, vol. 28, no. 4, 2012, pp. 290–308., doi:10.1080/01973762.2012.732028.
Siddall, Judie. “THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT ON TRANSFERWARE.” Dishy News – A Transferware Blog, 19 June 2014, dishynews.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-temperance-movement-on-transferware.html.
Siddall, Judie. “Father Mathew”. 20 Jan. 2020. E-mail.
TCC. “Father Matthew Administering The Total Abstinence Pledge”. Transferware Collectors Club Database of Patterns and Sources. 18 January 2020. Database.
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