Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition





In 1876 a grand celebration was took place in the city of Philadelphia to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Centennial Exhibition, held in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, was to be the first World’s Fair held in the United States. The Centennial Exhibition was as much a marvel of technological advancement as it was a celebration of one hundred years of American History. Almost all the nations of the world were represented at the Centennial Exhibition and almost 10 million people ventured to Philadelphia in the summer of 1876 to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of American independence.                                                                                                       





    There was a stunning display of technological advancement at the Centennial Exhibition, such as the Corliss Steam Engine, which powered Machinery Hall and was a main attraction of the exhibit. But also on display were the ideas of American morality. One of the exhibits that best exemplified the morality that was displayed at the Centennial Exhibit was the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain. The Total Abstinence Fountain was funded and created by the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America and this fountain is the best example of the high moral standards that the United States was trying to portray in the Centennial Exhibition in 1876.





                                                                                   Charles Carroll


    Commodore John Barry

The temperance movement has a long and storied history in the United States as the first prohibitory act was passed in Virginia in 1676(J.C.Gibbs, History of the Total Abstinence Union of America (Philadelphia: Penn Printing 1907, 11). Other temperance movements attempted to temper alcohol throughout the 1700’s, but it is in 1789 that the first temperance society can be found in Litchfield, Connecticut (Gibbs, 11). In 1794, a prominent Philadelphia doctor wrote about the virtues of the practice of total abstinence, and the writings of this prominent doctor contributed greatly to the spreading of the abstinence sentiment of the period.  The temperance movement gained significant momentum in the early part of the nineteenth century. By 1825 advocacy of temperance was becoming  very strong, as the medical community began to speak of the problems caused by the intake of alcohol and many religious societies began to advocate temperance (Gibbs, 12)


 Father Matthew Archbishop Carroll

                                                    The momentum that the temperance movement gained had a significant influence on society as by 1831, over 2,000 separate temperance societies existed and they had an aggregate membership in excess of 175,000 men who had pledged against the use of alcohol (Gibbs, 12) All the temperance movements of this period stressed the morality that was present in the boycott of alcohol. In a speech about the moral virtues, Rev. Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati said, “…there are four virtues termed cardinal virtues-Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude. None of these can the drunkard practice; every one of these does the drunkard outrage. (Gibbs, 31) In his speech Rev. Purcell appeals to the morality aspect of the temperance issue which was a common practice at the time. All of the temperance movements of the early nineteenth century were described as being of the ‘moral suasion’ (Gibbs, 12)                                                                                                         

The Total Abstinence Union of Philadelphia decided that they would build a fountain at the Centennial Exhibit to display the temperance movement. The idea to create a display at the Centennial dated back as far as February1874, when the Philadelphia Union held a demonstration at Music Hall.

“Its purposes, according to the chairman of the committee on arrangements, John H. Campbell, were to promote the cause of total abstinence, and to arouse a feeling among Catholics in favor of a proper celebration by them of the centennial of American independence, to be commemorated in July of 1876. Actually the union had adopted a resolution in the national convention in October, 1873, to support a project for the erection of a fountain in Fairmount Park for that anniversary.”(Joan Bland, Hiberian Crusade: The Story of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America Washington D.C. Catholic University of America Press,84)

                       The Centennial Fountain would be funded mostly by the Philadelphia branch of the Abstinence Union but would be created under the auspices of the Union of America. The fountain was made for a cost of approximately $50,000(McCabe, 326). There seem to be a few reasons as to why The Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America pushed so adamantly to have an exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition, among them being the celebration of 100 years of American history as well as the further the abstinence movement. But perhaps the most pressing reason as to why the Catholics had decided to have an exhibit at the Centennial was to celebrate Catholic ideals. In America, throughout the 1840’s their had been a strong resentment of the Catholics and in a few cases this resentment lead to violence. It could be argued that the Catholics were very similar to many of the foreign countries that had exhibitions at the Centennial. The Catholics were perhaps looking to express their ideas and beliefs through their exhibit so that they could gain further acceptance in the American culture.


                                                                                                         John Carroll

    The Fountain was located at the west end of Machinery Hall. Created entirely out of marble and granite, the statue was a design Herman Kirn, who was a young Philadelphia sculptor (James D., Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition Philadelphia, National Publishing Company 1876. McCabe, 325) The statue depicts five statues of individual men and if the fountain were viewed from above it would form of a Maltese Cross. (McCabe, 325) At the center of this statue is a colossal statue of Moses in which Moses stands with one end of his rod resting on the rock, which he has just struck, and the water gushes out from underneath his feet. (McCabe, 325) The image of Moses that is represented by this statue seems to originate from a Biblical story in which Moses, while leading his people out of the desert, strikes a rock and out of the rock gushes water with which he is able to give to his followers who are tired and thirsty. The statue of Moses is the center of the fountain and there are four other statues that surround it. The other four statues, that make up the points of the Maltese Cross, are statues of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Father Matthew Archbishop Carroll, the Great Apostle of temperance, Commodore John Barry, a distinguished officer of the American Revolution and father of the American Navy, and Father John Carroll, the patriot priest of the Revolution (McCabe, 326)


The four smaller statues of the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain are relatively humble in comparison to the statue of Moses that stands in the middle of the Fountain. Not only do they not compare in size but also in stature as well. The statue of Moses depicts him holding a rod and striking a rock, Moses has a somewhat majestic stance about him in the fountain, while the other statues show their characters in relatively modest stances in comparison to Moses.

Many of the inscriptions that adorn the four smaller statues seem to support the idea that the motivation behind the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain at the Centennial exhibition was to gain further acceptance for the Catholic faith in the American culture. The inscriptions that are on the statues celebrate the roles that these prominent Catholic’s played in American history. The inscription on the statue of Rev. John Carroll reads, “A Commissioner of the Continental Congress” while the inscription that adorns John Barry’s statue reads, “First Commordore of the United States Navy.” These inscriptions read almost like resumes, where the historical significance of each figure is explained. The message that seems to be expressed through these inscriptions is that Catholics played a significant role in the founding of the country, and the Catholic’s who were responsible for the Abstinence fountain wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of that. Also located on the statue of Charles Carroll is a quotation from Carroll that reads, “To obtain religious as well as civil liberty. I entered zealously into the revolution. God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these states till the end of time.” Once again the message that seems to be sent by using this very patriotic quotation is that the Catholics wanted to express their patriotic sentiments. Catholicism and Catholic beliefs were very unpopular at one time and the Catholics who were responsible for the Total Abstinence fountain seem to get across the idea that Catholics have and had very strong patriotic sentiments and many Catholics took substantial roles in the American Revolution. 

           The sheer size of The Catholic Total Abstinence is overwhelming but so is the ornate detail in which the individual statues are carved with. The Fountain was a very popular attraction at the Centennial, not only because it was a drinking fountain and water was a valuable commodity at the Centennial, but also because the statue appreciated for its aesthetic value as the statue was quite impressive. The Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain is one of the few artifacts of the Centennial Exhibition that still remains on the Centennial grounds at Fairmount Park. Many of the statues and buildings of the exhibition were torn down or sold off and shipped to all parts of the country. Even though the fountain still stands today, the condition of the fountain shows that it has endured a significant amount of deterioration since the exhibition in 1876 when the fountain was described as being one of the most handsome exhibitions at the Centennial, “The fountain is one the handsomest ornaments of the grounds…”(McCabe, 326) The fountain no longer serves as a functioning drinking fountain. A seeming lack of upkeep and maintenance has allowed time to take its toll on the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain. It is somewhat ironic that today, the grounds of the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain was littered with empty beer bottles

    The presence of the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain as well as the many other temperance societies say a considerable amount about the culture of the time, especially as it compares to today’s culture. While the Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain was perhaps the most prominent fountain to display the ideals of temperance many other statues were constructed, “Erected by the Pennsylvania Sons of Temperance and the Catholic Total Abstinence Union, these were among the many fountains being erected in the cities across the country in an effort to dissuade Americans from slaking their thirst with alcohol.”(Giberti, 78) The greatest cultural difference between the different periods can be seen in the way in which the word abstinence is defined. In its usage in today’s context, abstinence refers to abstaining from all sexual activity and makes no reference alcohol specifically. At the time that the Catholic Total Abstinence was constructed the phrase abstinence referred more to a lifestyle in which one would abstain from alcohol and many other things that could be viewed as being sinful and that could detract from leading a Catholic life. But in the context in which abstinence is used today it has lost a lot of the meaning that it once held and a lot of that could be a result of the cultural differences.

    The Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain is an example of how the Catholic Church was attempting to display the ideals of temperance. The Catholic Church during this era was gaining in power and was becoming a pillar of society. The Catholic Total Abstinence Fountain was looked upon as being a patriotic statement, as well as a religious one. The fountain was described as being a splendid monument to patriotism, and that the fountain was a celebration of religious and civil liberties. (Gibbs, 39-40)

     There are many inherent messages in the fountain itself. As the Centennial exhibition was a celebration of one hundred years of American independence, the Abstinence Union attempted to cater to that idea but making revolutionary heroes a part of this monument. But the most overwhelming symbolism of the statue is present in the large statue of Moses. The large statue of Moses reveals the morality, which is present in the fountain as well as the entire Centennial. Moses was the man whom God revealed the Ten Commandments to and it is those commandments that are the foundation of the temperance movement. This fountain expresses the morality of the culture as well as the morality that was expressed in the Centennial Exhibition as a whole.



Bland, Joan. Hibernian Crusade: The Story of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of     America. Catholic University of America Press. Washington, DC, 1951.

Gibbs, J.C. History of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America. Penn Printing House. Philadelphia, PA, 1907.

Giberti, Bruno. Designing the Centennial: A History of the 1876 International Exhibition in Philadelphia. TheUniversity Press of Kentucky.

 McCabe, James D. Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition. National Publishing Co. Philadelphia, PA, 1876