Temperance movement is a popular movement aimed at limiting alcohol consumption, the founder of which is considered to be Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), American professor of medicine. The first Estonian temperance society was established in 1889. At the time of the temperance congresses held in 1926 in Tartu, the movement was directed by the Estonian Temperance Association which had 3000 members and was based in Tartu. The Temperance Society of the Estonian Youth was the largest organisation (established in 1923) with 8000 members.
It published the magazine titled “Kevadik” (the plant name for Erophila verna), the almanac “Noorusjõud” (Youthful Vigour) and other publications promoting a healthy lifestyle; also it organized courses and congresses for youth workers. The Temperance Society of Women (established in 1923) included 3000 members. It published the magazine “Eesti Naine” (Estonian Woman) and organized celebration of the Mother’s Day, congresses, etc. A hopeful sign was the fact that there were already more than 40,000 organised abstainers, of which 75% were young people.
On July 18-29, 1926, the 18th World Congress and the 12th Nordic Congress of the antialcoholist movement were held at Tartu University. Among the participants were 273 persons from Estonia and 254 persons from abroad, all in all from 25 countries. On the last day of the congress the university was visited by a parliamentary delegation from Hungary. Simultaneously, the 3rd Christian Abstinence Congress of Students took place. The temperance congresses organized in Tartu were important events in the Estonian temperance movement which united the Finno-Ugric kindred peoples, as the majority of the participants of the World Congress were Finno-Ugric people (including even a representative of the Livonians). There was also a separate meeting for the Finno-Ugric members of the temperance movement, at which a working committee was elected for preparing a joint plan for future activity.
Related to the congresses, an outstanding figure of the Estonian temperance movement was Peeter Põld (1878-1930), professor of pedagogy and vice-chancellor of Tartu University, who chaired the Congress and was nominated chairman of the standing committee until the next congress. In 1926-1930 he was the chairman of the Estonian Temperance Association. Another important figure was Johann Matthias Eisen (1857-1934), who had met Dr. A.A.Granfelt, the Finnish temperance leader, during his visit to Finland in 1886 and had written the history of the temperance movement. The third leading figure was Villem Ernits (1891-1982) who headed the Estonian Temperance Association in 1919-1926 and in 1930-1940. He acted as the representative of the World Prohibitionist Association in the Baltic States in 1924-1930.