As It Was: Broom Brigade battled ‘Demon Alcohol’

    Photo courtesy of Southern Oregon Historical Society, image No. 11084Peter Britt photographed the Girls Fan Brigade in 1889. Fan brigades were formed all over the country in the 1880s and were often organized as a form of entertainment and as church fund raisers.

    The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union led the battle against “Demon Alcohol” from the 1880s into the 20th Century. The WCTU even used occasions such as Ashland’s summer Chautauqua to bring its message about the dangers of alcohol to family and society.

    The Chautauqua was a national traveling program of lectures, seminars and entertainment, and Ashland had been selected in 1893 as the location in Southern Oregon.

    An unusual aspect of the temperance movement’s fight was the creation of the “Broom Brigade.” A drill manual — written by Joseph H. Barnett — showed how young people should use the discipline of physical activity to ward off the evils of alcohol and tobacco. The girls drilled with brooms and the instructions directed them to shout a loud “BANG” when given the order to fire.

    Dressed in high-necked, bustled, two-colored dresses, the women marched in support of absolute temperance. One picture of Jacksonville’s Broom Brigade and Fan Drill shows eight women, four standing and four kneeling, brooms supported like rifles and pointed directly at the photographer.

    Their eyes are unflinching and ready for battle.

    Sources: Barnett, Joseph H., Barnett’s Broome Brigade Tactics and Fan Drill, 5th Edition, Chicago: David C. Cook, 1890; Richardson, Paul A., “From Trails to Rails, Jackson County, 1880-1900,” p. 50-51, in Land in Common, Southern Oregon Historical Society, 1993. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at

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