Preaching temperance in Jamestown

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig
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The woman who helped organize the Jamestown chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement had a long history of battling the vices of drink in Dakota Territory.

Cynthia Eloise Cleveland arrived in Jamestown in August 1882 to present a temperance lecture “against the prevailing vice,” according to The Jamestown Alert.
She had traveled north from Aberdeen on a stagecoach to reach Jamestown but was planning on traveling east by train to Fargo for a similar speech after her talk in Jamestown.

In a front-page article, the writers of the Alert called Cleveland “a woman of zeal, bravery and work, with a remarkable history.”

They also noted she was “on the shady side of thirty.” An online biography of Cleveland said she was born in 1845 making her about 37 when she visited Jamestown in 1882.


I’m not entirely sure how shady 37 is.

In the three years since Cleveland came to the Dakota Territory, she had spread her temperance message in the gold mining camps of the Black Hills, railroad construction camps and pretty much any place else she found alcohol being dispensed.

There were a lot of plans to celebrate the first Independence Day of the 20th century.

“A lone female, she has traversed the entire territory, time and again, in season and out of season, sometimes in the company of saints, oftener in the company of sinners,” wrote The Jamestown Alert. “… truly, a glorious record. Even the hardened drinker will bend the knee in homage.”

She credited this to the fact that the folks of Dakota “no matter how great their vices, they never insult a woman or allow one to be insulted in their presence.”

The Alert had not always been that kind in its articles about Cleveland.

“We have just recovered from a course of blizzards and cyclones and now we are threatened with a visit from Miss Cynthia Eloise Cleveland,” the Alert said about an 1880 visit to the community.

Cleveland promised to return to Jamestown in 1882 to help form the local chapter of the WCTU. Her presentations were often at the Methodist church and it was likely there that she worked to organize an ongoing effort to eliminate alcohol.

History gives another distinction to Cleveland.


She was the first female attorney admitted to the bar in the Dakota Territory. She practiced in the Pierre, South Dakota, area until 1885 when she moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as a postal inspector.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks

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