Eliza Stewart, or “Mother Stewart” as she liked to be known, was another lady with a talent for humanity. She had worked tirelessly during the American Civil War as a nurse, setting up hospitals and ensuring adequate supplies of food, blankets and medicine were provided for the wounded.
After the end of the Civil War, she became actively involved in the growing temperance movement in the States. “No power on earth … has such influence to terrorize and make cowards of men as the liquor power. Satan could not have fallen on a more potent instrument with which to thrall the world,” she declared.
Eliza was well known for her participation in what became termed “The Crusades” in 1893 and 1894. This movement started in Ohio, where groups of women were encouraged to march on local saloons, pray and ask the saloonkeeper to stop selling spirits. Amazingly, in many instances they were successful.
She had also had the novel distinction of being allowed to deliver a plea to the jury in an historic court case in 1872 where the wife of a drunkard was bringing a prosecution against the saloonkeeper who had sold liquor to her husband. The prosecution was under a little known law, the Adair law. This allowed a wife, child, parent or guardian or employer of an intoxicated person who had suffered because of that person’s intoxication, to sue the person who had sold the liquor and thus “caused” the intoxication. This law had been on the stature books since 1854 but the 1872 case was the first to be brought under it. Eliza Stewart, in her address to the jury, emphasised the harm the wife had suffered because of her husband’s drinking – being forced to work as a labourer to support her family and suffereing the stigma of being called a drunkard’s wife. She pleaded with the jurymen to deal with the plaintiff as they would like others to deal with their own wives and families. She won the first of many victories for wives under the legislation, causing a sensation locally and nationally.
Mother Stewart was therefore well regarded when she came on a speaking tour to Britain in 1876. On April 21st, 1876, she spoke at a meeting in Newcastle upon Tyne which had been convened by Margaret Parker and Margaret Bright Lucas. Margaret Parker had visited America and witnessed for herself the amazing work of the Temperance Crusades there.This meeting aimed to attract women from all round Britain and Ireland who were appalled by the misery and poverty caused by intemperance. The result was the formation of the British Womens’ Temperance Association (BWTA), with the aim of campaigning against the manufacture and sale of alcoholic liquor.
The BWTA’s constitution began:
“In the spirit of Christ, and in the love of God and of humanity, we women of this nation, conscious of the great evils, and appalled by the dangers of intemperance, band ourselves together for the promotion of Total Abstinence, and the entire extinction of the Liquor Traffic.”
Quite an ambitious objective and certainly extraordinary for movement run by women who did not even have the right to vote!