Glossary Definition

Victorian temperance pledge certificate
Victorian temperance pledge certificate. whitemay / Getty Images


A teetotaller is someone who totally abstains from liquor.

In the 19th century, the Preston Temperance Society in England and, later, the American Temperance Union encouraged a pledge of abstinence from intoxicating liquor, as part of the temperance movement. Those who had signed the pledge were asked to use a T with their signature to mean "total abstinence." The T plus the "total" led to those who'd signed the pledge being called T-totallers or teetotallers.

The term was in use as early as 1836 when an explanation of it as meaning "total abstainer" appeared in print.

From there, the term came to be used more generally, for anyone who voluntarily committed to abstinence, or simply for a nondrinker.

The Pledge

The pledge of temperance from the Preston Temperance Society (in Preston, England) read:

"We agree to abstain from all liquors of an intoxicating quality whether ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits, except as medicine."

Also Known As: Abstainer, dry, nondrinker, prohibitionist

Other words for teetotalism: Abstinence, temperance, abstemiousness, on the wagon, dry, sober.

Alternate Spellings: t-totaller, teetotaler

Examples: First Lady Lucy Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, was known as Lemonade Lucy because, as a teetotaller, she did not serve liquor in the White House. Henry Ford required a teetotaller pledge for those he hired in his new auto production industry, to promote better productivity and workplace safety.

Learn more about how teetotallism fit into the more general movement to limit or ban the use of alcoholic beverages: Temperance Movement and Prohibition Timeline

Image: the image included is an example of the Victorian era pledge, complete with very Victorian floral embellishment.

Religious groups that require or encourage abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages:

Assembly of God, Baha'i, Christian Science, Islam, Jainism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS. also known as the Mormon Church), Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Christ, Sikhism, Salvation Army.  Also, some Hindu and Buddhist sects, and some Mennonite and Pentecostal groups. Methodists in English and American history often taught abstinence but rarely do that currently. In the Victorian era, many in both the Evangelical and Unitarian movements taught at least restraint, if not temperance and teetotalling.

Most of those religions that prohibit alcohol do so on the grounds that it is harmful, that it inhibits mindfulness, or can easily lead to unethical behavior.

Some famous women teetotallers:

In history, women becoming teetotallers was often an expression of religious values, or was based on general social reform principles.  In the modern world, some women become teetotallers for such reasons, and others because of a past history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse.

  • Tyra Banks: a model and actress.
  • Susan Boyle: singer.
  • Pearl S. Buck: writer, won Nobel Prize for Literature, 1938.
  • Faye Dunaway: actress.
  • Janeane Garofalo: actress.
  • Kathy Griffin: comedian.
  • Elisabeth Hasselbeck: television personality.
  • Jennifer Hudson: singer.
  • Carrie Nation: temperance activist.
  • Kelly Osbourne: actress.
  • Marie Osmond: singer.
  • Natalie Portman: actress.
  • Anna Quindlen: writer.
  • Christina Ricci: actress.
  • Anne Rice: writer.
  • Linda Rondstadt: singer.
  • Sarah Silverman: comedian, actress and writer.
  • Jada Pinkett Smith: actress.
  • Lucy Stone: women's rights activist.
  • Mae West: actress. 
  • Frances Willard: temperance reformer.
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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Teetotaller." ThoughtCo, Sep. 27, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-teetotaller-3530549. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, September 27). Teetotaller. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-teetotaller-3530549 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Teetotaller." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-teetotaller-3530549 (accessed March 31, 2023).