Who Was Neal Dow and Why Does Chico Have a Street Named for Him?

When we moved to Chico 25 years ago, our youngest daughter started Kindergarten at Neal Dow School. I wondered who Neal Dow was and why he had a school named after him. He must have been some prominent Chicoan. When I found out that he was a former mayor of Portland, Maine, I was definitely puzzled.

The answer lies with Annie Bidwell and the Prohibition movement. Annie greatly admired Neal Dow of Maine and his uncompromising stance against alcohol. I don’t know when the subdivision containing Neal Dow Ave. was developed, but I assume it was during her lifetime. Only Annie would name a street after a prominent prohibitionist.

According to Wikipedia:neal_dow

Neal Dow (March 20, 1804 – October 2, 1897) was an American prohibition advocate and politician. Nicknamed the “Napoleon of Temperance” and the “Father of Prohibition”, Dow was born into a Quaker family in Portland, Maine, in 1804. From a young age, he was active in the cause of prohibition, which saw alcohol as the cause of many of society’s problems and sought to ban it. In 1850, Dow was elected president of the Maine Temperance Union, and the next year was elected mayor of Portland. Soon after, largely due to Dow’s efforts, the state legislature banned the sale and production of alcohol in what became known as the Maine Law. As mayor of Portland, Dow enforced the law with vigor and called for increasingly harsh penalties for violators. In 1855, his opponents rioted and he ordered the state militia to fire on the crowd. One man was killed and several wounded, and when public reaction to the violence turned against Dow, he chose not to face the voters for reelection.

Dow was later elected to two terms in the state legislature, but retired after a financial scandal. He joined the Union Army shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, eventually attaining the rank of brigadier general. He was wounded at the siege of Port Hudson and later captured. After being exchanged for another officer in 1864, Dow resigned from the military and devoted himself once more to prohibition. He spoke across the United States, Canada, and Great Britain in support of the cause. In 1880, Dow headed the Prohibition Party ticket for President of the United States. He gained very few votes, but continued to write and speak on behalf of the prohibition movement for the rest of his life. Dow died in Portland in 1897 at the age of 93.

Neal Dow was an early advocate of temperance and a founding member of the Maine Temperance Society. As a Civil War brigadier general and Prohibition Party candidate for President, his life had certain parallels with that of John Bidwell. It’s no surprise that Annie Bidwell admired him.

Did he ever visit Chico on a speaking tour? I can’t find any evidence that he did in the newspapers or the diaries of John and Annie. Annie may well have met him and heard him speak while she was in the East. She certainly would not have missed a chance to meet the “Napoleon of Temperance.”


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Who Was Neal Dow and Why Does Chico Have a Street Named for Him?

  1. Samuel Handley says:

    I grew up on the corner of Neal Dow and E. 1st Avenue. Our house was built by Webb Homes in 1960 and I went to Neal Dow Elementary also. I don’t know how old the street is But I suspect, since all that build out all the way to Pleasant Valley High happened post war, that Neal Dow Street and school are both no older than ’59 or ’60.

  2. M Ed says:

    I lived in chico until 1959. I had friends who lived on Neal Dow and attended the school in the 50’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s