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Wheaton Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) (1874-) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: Wheaton Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) (1874-)


Historical Note:

In many towns in Ohio and New York in the fall and winter of 1873-74, women concerned about the destructive power of alcohol met in churches to pray and then marched to the saloons to ask the owners to close their establishments. Initial groups in Fredonia, NY and Hillsboro and Washington Court House, Ohio listened to a lecture by Dr. Diocletian “Dio” Lewis and were moved to a non-violent protest against the dangers of alcohol. This “woman’s crusade” was met with only temporary success and it was concluded that a national organization was needed. Thus at an interdenominational meeting of the National Sunday School Assembly held on the Chautauqua Grounds at Lake Chautauqua, NY in August 1874, it was decided to hold a national convention that fall in Cleveland, Ohio.  On November 18-20, 1874 women from 18 states gathered in the Second Presbyterian Church in Cleveland to organize the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) at its first national convention. The WCTU became the oldest continuing non-sectarian women's organization worldwide. During this three day meeting, methods, plans of work, pledge and constitution were formulated and the first set of officers was elected. Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer was elected president (1874-1879); Miss Frances E. Willard, corresponding secretary; Mrs. Mary Johnson, recording secretary; and Mrs. Mary Ingham, treasurer. The purpose of the WCTU was to combat the influence of alcohol on families and society. They were inspired by the Greek writer Xenophon who defined temperance as “moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.”

In 1879 Frances Willard became president of the WCTU and used organizing political means in addition to moral persuasion to achieve total abstinence. Frances E. Willard was one of the most prominent social reformers in 19th century America. As president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union from 1879 to 1898, she rallied support for temperance as well as many other important reform movements including women's suffrage, women's economic and religious rights, prison reforms, abstinence, education and labor reforms, and international peace. Willard's personal motto was “do everything.” The WCTU adopted this as a policy which came to mean that all reform was interconnected and that social problems could not be separated. The use of alcohol and other drugs was a symptom of the larger problems in society. By 1894 the WCTU was endorsing women's suffrage and by 1896, 25 of the 39 departments of the WCTU were dealing with non-temperance issues. Temperance, however (especially in terms of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs), was the force that bound the WCTU's social reforms together. To promote its causes, the WCTU was among the first organizations to keep a professional lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

For 19 years Willard captivated the imaginations and mobilized the sentiments of countless women. Under her leadership the WCTU grew to be one of the largest organizations of women in the 19th century and spread its movement worldwide. Once the 19th Amendment had been passed, Willard felt that women voters “would come into government and purify it, into politics and cleanse the Stygian pool.” Behind the WCTU's temperance reform was “protection of the home.” The slogan “For God and Home and Native Land” (later changed to “Every Land”) expressed the WCTU's priorities. Through education and example the WCTU hoped to obtain pledges of total abstinence from alcohol, and later also tobacco and other drugs. The white ribbon bow was selected to symbolize purity, and the WCTU's watchwords were “Agitate - Educate - Legislate.”

Today the WCTU is the oldest voluntary, non-sectarian woman's organization in continuous existence in the world. The WCTU is a founding member (1888) of the National Council for Women (Frances Willard was its first president) and the International Council of Women in 1893. It is also a charter member (1945) of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). For almost 125 years the WCTU has trained women to think on their feet, speak in public, and run an organization.

Sources: Vertical File (Prohibition - Woman’s Christian Temperance Union); WCTU Official Website <http://www.wctu.org>; Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women's_Christian_Temperance_Union>; Frances Willard Historical Association <http://www.franceswillardhouse.org>






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