Stewart, Eliza Daniel (1816–1908)
Stewart, Eliza Daniel (1816–1908)
American temperance leader who founded the first Woman's Temperance League, a precursor to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Name variations: Mother Stewart. Born Eliza Daniel on April 25, 1816, in Piketon, Ohio; died on August 6, 1908, in Hicksville, Ohio; daughter of James Daniel (a farmer) and Rebecca (Guthery) Daniel; educated in public school; attended Granville and Marietta, Ohio, seminaries; married Joseph Coover (died); married Hiram Stewart, in 1848; children: (second marriage) five who died in infancy; two stepsons.
Eliza Daniel Stewart was born in Piketon, Ohio, in 1816. Her maternal grandfather, a Revolutionary War veteran, had settled in Piketon before the town was founded. Her parents, James, a farmer from Virginia, and Rebecca Guthery Daniel , were both of Scots-Irish descent and died when Eliza was a child. Her older brother, the Piketon postmaster, appointed Eliza in 1833 as the assistant postmaster, reportedly the first woman officially to hold this position. After a local education and studies at seminaries in Granville and Marietta, Ohio, she taught school. Her brief first marriage ended with her husband's death after a few months. She remarried in 1848 to Hiram Stewart, son of a prominent farmer in Athens County. In addition to mothering two stepsons, she had five children, all of whom died in infancy.
As a young woman raised in the Methodist Church, Stewart was interested in spiritual improvement and perceived alcohol to be a significant evil in society. Around 1858, she acted on her beliefs by organizing a lodge of the Good Templars, a temperance organization, in Athens, and gave her first temperance lecture in Pomeroy, Ohio. In addition to her temperance work, she earned the name "Mother Stewart" during the Civil War for organizing supplies to be sent to Union soldiers, and visiting sick and wounded soldiers in camps in the South.
Following the war, the family moved to Springfield, Ohio, where in 1867 Stewart founded and served as president of the city's first suffrage organization. On January 22, 1872, she stepped up her temperance activities by urging Springfield women to encourage the wives and mothers of drunks to prosecute liquor dealers under Ohio's Adair Act. The law, first passed in 1854, allowed the wife or mother of a drunkard to sue a liquor dealer for damages if they sold alcohol to her husband or son. Soon after this lecture, Stewart contributed to a court victory in just such a case. A similar success the next year inspired the women of Springfield, led by Stewart, to petition the city council to adopt a local ordinance against alcohol. Weekly meetings, and the publicity that accompanied them, resulted in invitations for Stewart to speak to women's groups elsewhere in the state. She established the first Woman's Temperance League, the predecessor of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), on December 2, 1873, in Osborn, Ohio.
Similar movements in Ohio and western New York were also gaining popularity that month, with groups of praying women overrunning saloons in Fredonia and Jamestown, New York. In Ohio, women were storming saloons in Hillsboro as well as the Washington Court House. Thus began a movement that rapidly swept through the Midwest and East in the early months of 1874. Stewart was one of the leaders of an invasion in Springfield. In January, she was elected president of a new temperance union in that city and later that year became leader of what is believed to be the first county union in the country. In November, she was a prominent participant in, and elected chair of, the resolutions committee of the Cleveland convention called by Martha McClellan Brown and others, which formally organized the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Although Stewart was considered by some to represent the radical fringe element of the temperance movement, a speech by Frances Willard convinced the group of Stewart's leadership abilities.
In 1876, Stewart took her message to Great Britain in support of the British Women's Temperance Association and the Scottish Christian Union. In 1879, she toured the South as chair of the WCTU's committee on Southern work and helped organize white and black temperance unions. She was a WCTU delegate to the World's Convention of Good Templars in Edinburgh in 1891, and in 1895 delivered the opening speech to the World's WCTU convention in London. Noted for being an effective speaker, Stewart also addressed temperance meetings in France, Germany, and Switzerland thereafter.
Stewart's two published works are a history of the early temperance movement. Memories of the Crusade: A Thrilling Account of the Great Uprising of the Women of Ohio in 1873, against the Liquor Crime (1888) and The Crusader in Great Britain; or, The History of the Origin and Organization of the British Women's Temperance Association (1893) recount her part in the history of the WCTU. Late in life, Stewart joined the Christian Catholic Church of Zion City, Illinois. Its founder, John Alexander Dowie, ordained her an elder, but she was soon disillusioned by its fanaticism and left the group. The last years of her life were spent as an invalid, cared for by her former private secretary in Hicksville, Ohio. She died there, age 92, on August 6, 1908, and was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Springfield, Ohio.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.
Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.
Martha Jones , M.L.S., Natick, Massachusetts