Woman's Christian Temperance Union

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WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION (WCTU) was dedicated to eliminating the consumption of alcohol. Founded in 1874, the WCTU was the largest women's reform organization of the nineteenth century. It had its origin in the 1873 Woman's Temperance Crusade, in which women across the country engaged in spontaneous protest, marching to saloons, singing hymns, praying, dumping liquor barrels, destroying property, and forcing liquor sellers to close their businesses. When closed saloons reopened several months later, temperance women decided to organize formally, calling for a national convention to be held in Cleveland 18–20 November 1874. Delegates from seventeen states attended, and the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union was founded with Annie Wittenmyer as president(1873–1878). Its membership, composed mainly of evangelical Protestants and limited to women, grew rapidly, and soon every state had a WCTU organization.

During its first five years, the organization focused on abstinence through moral suasion and education, but its activities broadened to include many women's rights reforms when Frances Willard became president in 1879. Willard was the organization's most famous and innovative leader (1879–1898). Guided by Willard's "Do Everything" motto, the organization embraced the moral reform of prostitutes, prison reform, and woman suffrage. Willard's "Home Protection" campaign argued that with the vote women could enact prohibition, and this became a major focus of the organization's efforts, particularly under its third president (1898–1914), Lillian M. Stevens, a Willard protege. The WTCU developed sophisticated political organizing and lobbying techniques at local, state, and national levels and also ran a large publishing company. In the 1880s it became an international organization working for prohibition and women's rights around the world. The WCTU was also the first large national organization to unite Northern and Southern women after the Civil War, and it included black women, although local chapters in both the North and South were usually segregated.

A powerful and influential reform group, the WCTU secured a number of political victories. It campaigned, for example, for state legislation requiring scientific temperance instruction in the public schools, which was accomplished by 1902. Its most well known accomplishment, however, was the passage of the Eighteenth (Prohibition) Amendment in 1919. After 1919, guided by its fourth president (1914–1925), Anna Gordon, the organization turned its attention to child welfare, social purity, and the "Americanization" of immigrants. Throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, it also fought the repeal of Prohibition, a battle which it lost in 1933 and which left the WCTU considerably weakened.

In the early twenty-first century, the WCTU was still headquartered in Evanston, Ill., as it had been since Willard headed the organization. The emblem of the WCTU is a white ribbon bow with the motto "For God and Home and Every land." In 1975 it had organizations in more than seventy nations and approximately 250,000 members in the United States.


Bordin, Ruth. Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873–1900. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981.

———. Frances Willard: A Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Hays, Agnes Dubbs. Heritage of Dedication: One Hundred Years of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1874–1974. Evanston, Ill.: Signal Press, 1973.

Tyrrell, Ian R. Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1800– 1930. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Willard, Frances E. Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publication Association, 1889.

Edith KirkendallStanley/l. t.

See alsoSettlement House Movement ; Suffrage: Woman's Suffrage ; Temperance Movement ; Women's Rights Movement .

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Womans Christian Temperance Union

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