Child soldiers in the war against alcohol

Loyal Temperance Legion ribbon, 1895 – 1905

I discovered this curious little ribbon in the Milton Historical Society collection recently while doing research on the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Although part of the ribbon at the top was torn off at some point, the slogan Tremble, King Alcohol, we shall grow up easily identifies this as a badge to be worn by members of the Loyal Temperance Legion: the children’s auxiliary that formally became a part of the W. C. T. U. in 1895. The upper part of the ribbon is missing; that part had the emblem of the Loyal Temperance Legion on it. This is only one of the many badges and emblems used by the L. T. L. throughout its history.


Milton’s own Loyal Temperance Legion was organized in 1913, according to the Wilmington Morning News; children from 6 to 14 would be invited to join. Just how successful they were in attracting members is open to question. The Lillian Cade Union, based just outside of Milton at Cave Neck, organized its own L. T. L. some years earlier, and counted 10 members in 1912. It is not known whether the ribbon shown above came from a member of the Milton L. T. L. or the one in Cave Neck. In any case, the Cave Neck L. T. L. did a far better job than its sister organization in Milton of publicizing its activities in the local press.

From its founding in 1874, the W. C. T. U. had as one of its principal goals the education, or more accurately the indoctrination, of children 6 to 12 years old in its fundamental value of total abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and narcotics. The reasoning was twofold: one, the inherent benefits in an adult life free of substance abuse were easier to realize through childhood education than remediating adult habits, and two, early education would create future voters and legislators sympathetic to passing temperance laws. With its roots firmly in Evangelical Protestant Christianity, the W. C. T. U. initially tried to educate youngsters through quarterly Sunday school lessons. Not all Sunday school teachers were sympathetic to Temperance, however, and many others found it difficult to connect the movement to Biblical references.

Recognizing that Sunday school classes were not going to advance their goals, the W. C. T. U. started work on its own program of childhood education in 1880, with the publication of The Juvenile Temperance Manual, written by Methodist medical writer Julia Colman. The manual provided a constitution, meeting plans, marches and songs for informal groups of youngsters who could elect officers and send delegates to W. C. T. U. meetings. The children’s program was given the name Loyal Temperance Union in 1890, and became an official part of the W. C. T. U. in 1895.

In its first few years, the L. T. L. program was designed especially to attract boys; it had many militaristic elements to it, such as marching, saluting, posture, and drills with dummy rifles. Endeavoring not to exclude girls, it featured similar exercises for them using fans and brooms. Peace proponents withing the W. C. T. U. opposed the boys’ exercises, believing them to be training future killers, and others ridiculed the girls’ exercises. By 1890, these critics won out and the militaristic aspects of the L. T. L. were eliminated.

A host of other activities took the place of the drills; these activities were designed to engage youngsters and get the Temperance message across. They included plays, parades, picnics, debates, and essay, poster, and coloring contests. The various L. T. L. groups funded humanitarian projects to aid their counterparts in Europe after WWI, Japan after WWII, and South Korea in the 1960s. They planted trees and gardens, installed water fountains, and placed benches in parks. The L. T. L. groups also gave classes in sewing, knitting, woodcarving, and map drawing.

In cities, The L. T. L. groups went out of their way to recruit immigrant and African American children, as well as youngsters who were already in the workforce as newsboys, bootblacks, messengers and cigar girls. The W. C. T. U. published a newspaper for the L. T. L., The Young Crusader, to promote a positive life free of alcohol and other temptations. Membership peaked at 240,000 in 1890, declining steadily after that; in 1929, about 56,000 members were reported. Nationally, the Loyal Temperance Legion is still active today, as are the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Youth Temperance Council (for teenagers). However, their membership numbers are greatly diminished; the Delaware W. C. T. U. reported 12 L. T. L. members in 1976, the last year for which I could find statistics. All three of these organizations are no longer active in the First State.

6 thoughts on “Child soldiers in the war against alcohol

  • Joseph C Sopczynski


    • Phil Martin

      Joseph, thank you for your interest and nice feedback! Just out of curiosity, were you or anyone you know involved in a Temperance organization? I’d be interested in having a conversation about what that was like. I am a historian for the Milton Historical Society, a volunteer curator and trustee as well. We’re putting on an exhibit in March of 2023 about the history of women in Milton, and the Temperance movement involved quite a few of them over a period of 75 years.

  • William T. Jones

    Images of children frequently appeared on political buttons at the time which advocated prohibition. I can send you a least one picture if you like.

  • Neal W Welch

    My Grandmother, Mrs. William H. Welch II (Hughes) was a big supporter of the WCTU in Milton for many years. She didn’t allow her husband to drink alcohol and hoped that her two sons, Neal M. Welch and William H. Welch III would not as well. That wish was not fulfilled since I knew my Uncle and Dad very well. However, no alcohol was consumed at the Welch residence or in the Welch Store.

    • Phil Martin

      Always glad to hear from you Neal! Tell me though: did Mrs. Welch forbid alcohol to be added to cough syrups and other medications?

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