Woman's Christian Temperance Union

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The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is the oldest continuing non-sectarian women's organization worldwide. Organized at a national convention in Cleveland, Ohio in 1874,[1] the group spearheaded the crusade for prohibition. Members in Fredonia, New York advanced their cause by entering saloons, singing, praying, and urging saloon keepers to stop selling alcohol.


History and purpose

The purpose of the WCTU was to combat the influence of alcohol on families and society. The first president was Annie Wittenmyer. Frances Willard, a noted feminist, was its second president, and made the greatest leaps for the group. They were inspired by the Greek writer Xenophon who defined temperance as "moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful." In other words, should something be good, it should not be indulged in to excess. Should something be bad for you, it should be avoided altogether; thus their attempts to rid their surroundings of what they saw (and still see) as the dangers of alcohol. The WCTU perceived alcoholism as a consequence of larger social problems rather than as a personal weakness or failing.

Thus the WCTU was very interested in a number of social reform issues including: labor, prostitution, public health, sanitation and international peace. As the movement grew in numbers and strength, members of the WCTU also focused on suffrage. The WCTU was instrumental in organizing woman's suffrage leaders and in helping more women become involved in American politics. Local chapters, known as “unions”, were largely autonomous though linked to state and national headquarters. Willard pushed for the "Home Protection" ballot, arguing that women, being the superior sex morally, needed the vote in order to act as "citizen-mothers" and protect their homes and cure society's ills. At a time when suffragists still alienated most American women, who viewed them as radicals, the WCTU offered a more traditionally feminine and appropriate organization for women to join.

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