John B. Finch (1852-87) was a nationally known temperance worker and lecturer who spent many of his productive years in Nebraska. He introduced the Red Ribbon reform club movement into the state and helped establish such clubs in many Nebraska towns.
Finch was born and educated in New York, where he later taught school and studied law. He early became interested in temperance reform. At the age of fifteen he helped form a lodge of Good Templars, a temperance-minded fraternal order, in the town of Pitcher, New York, where his family then resided. He later held important state and national positions in the order.
In October of 1877 he opened his speaking career in Nebraska with speeches at Nebraska City and then moved to Lincoln, where he gave a three-week lecture series. From Lincoln he traveled over the state speaking in a number of towns and organizing Red Ribbon reform clubs. Club members, who wore red ribbons on their lapels, signed a pledge that they would “never make, buy, sell, use, furnish, or cause to be furnished to others” any liquor and promised to discourage consumption of liquor in their communities. Lincoln’s Red Ribbon club, which at one time boasted over twelve thousand members, was said to be one of the largest in the country.
In addition to his speaking ability, Finch possessed a talent for organizing. In towns where Red Ribbon meetings were held, attempts were made to establish a public library or reading room to replace saloons as a meeting place. Originally a Democrat, Finch joined the Prohibition Party in 1880, and from that time labored incessantly in various state and national campaigns to promote this party’s interests and elect its candidates. He and H. W. Hardy of Lincoln campaigned successfully for a state high license law after a similar Lincoln law had reduced the number of saloons in that city. In the last year of his life Finch published a volume containing a number of his addresses entitled The People Versus the Liquor Traffic.
Finch died suddenly in 1887 at the age of thirty-five at Boston after returning from a speaking engagement at Lynn, Massachusetts. He had moved from Lincoln to Evanston, Illinois, several years before his death and is buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.