Strange Alcoholic Tales from Salem MA

lydiaRev. Theobold Mathew, or Father Mathew (1790-1856), was an Irish temperance reformer who founded a mission in Cork, Ireland. The Father Mathew Total Abstinence Society, mostly Irish, was founded to inspire males to abjure from alcohol. He was a big proponent of social activities, including picnics, dances and sporting events. Within nine months, no less than 150,000 people had enrolled and took his abstinence pledge. His movement was also successful in Liverpool, Manchester, and London before it spread to America.

Despite ill health, “the apostle of temperance” Father Mathew lead a successful campaign across the United States. For two years he made his way across America, visiting Salem in Sept. of 1849 and President Taylor in the White House February of 1850.

After his visit the Total Abstinence Society became prosperous and would buy the Gideon Tucker Mansion in 1875 on Essex Street. One of the many homes connected to the tunnels in Salem. They erected a statue in his honor in 1887. They placed it in front of the Phoenix Hall near a poisoned well and a distillery. The distillery ran from Charter to Derby Street on the old grounds of Stephen White’s wharf. Somebody did not believe it was an apt place for the statue.

In 1916, the statue was moved from Central and Charter Streets to its present location, the corner of Derby Street and Hawthorne Boulevard (also known as Bertram Park.) Then in 1920 Prohibition started.
In 1922, Lydia’s Pinkham’s daughter Aroline Pinkham Chase Gove founded the Lydia E. Pinkham Memorial Clinic to provide health services to young mothers and their children; right across from the Father Mathew Statue. April of that same year, the Boston Globe reported on the sudden rise of “baby-carriage bootleggers” and described women as “champion booze hiders.” Woman tucked bottles under blankets, under mattresses, and on children. “The most popular refuge picked by the woman for contraband booze is the pocket hidden beneath her skirt,” they reported. “A properly tailored dress will secrete a number of bottles about the person without the hazard of clinking glass or gurgling nozzles.” The most common producer of these drinks were Lydia Pinkham.

Lydia Pinkham produced remedies to end womanly complaints. Most were 18% alcohol; others reached as high as 40 proof. Life Magazine had said, “Two or three bottles taken at once will make any woman forget her complaints, and her Christian name.”

She was the first woman to put her face on a product. The only other woman’s face that was as popular was Queen Victoria and many didn’t know the difference. Her ad campaigns read, “A fearful tragedy-Clergyman of Stratford, Conn. Killed by his own wife-Insanity brought on by 16 years of female complaints the cause-Lydia Pinkham Vegetable Compound-The sure cure to these complaints.” Advertising copy urged women to write to Mrs. Pinkham. They did, and they received answers. They continued to write and receive answers for decades after Pinkham’s own death.

Life is strange and city hall is stranger. Somebody on the license board had a sense of humor. They allowed the building that commemorated the woman who got women hammered during prohibition to be built next to the statue of the Irish Priest who tried to get men to remain sober….
For more stories like this about how Salem has shaped American History read Sub Rosa. Available at Barnes & Noble,, and your favorite local independent book seller.

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