Organized in 1874 the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was one of the most important of all temperance organizations. It was very powerful and effective in promoting prohibition, and by the end of WW1 the USA had introduced prohibition. The movement’s popularity weakened in the 1930s. However, abstinence of alcohol is still a requirement of several societies such as the Salvation Army, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and many other religions.
The WCTU encouraged local chapters to erect fresh water fountains in public venues. Fountains were erected in popular areas to provide pure drinking water to men who claimed that drinking alcohol was a necessity because of the unavailability of clean drinking water. The Union’s concern for animal rights was addressed with drinking troughs at various heights which provided refreshment for horses and dogs. The fountains were placed in heavily trafficked areas in town and cities. They were almost always inscribed with the organization’s name and a white ribbon (a common symbol of the WCTU).
A wealthy San Francisco dentist and businessman, Henry D. Cogswell, erected sixteen temperance fountains in various cities across America including the city of Washington DC in June 1884. As a temperance crusader, he believed that easy access to cool drinking water would deter people from consuming alcohol to slake their thirst. Originally located at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street in DC, the fountain was relocated 100 feet north during the rehabilitation of Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1980s.
On each side, four entablatures are engraved with the words Faith, Hope, Charity, and Temperance. Ice water, provided by coils under blocks of ice, spouted from the mouths of dolphins, and brass cups attached to chains offered a receptacle for refreshment. Water overflow spilled into troughs where horses could also partake of the cool water.
The fountain that ironically once sat in front of the Apex Liquor Store is now across from a Starbucks. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.