Modern History Sourcebook:
Woman's Christian Temperance Union:
Growth of Membership and of Local, Auxiliary Unions, 1879-1921
The major women's political activity of the late 19th and early 20th century was
not organized around political rights feminism, but around the temperance movement.
Because of the general concensus that the temperance movement produced a disaster during
the period of prohibition, and because of a lack of sympathy for its overt evangelical
Christianity, the temperance movement did not receive its full due as an aspect of the
history of American women's political activity.
It is now clear that, contrary to claims of women's removal from public life,
American women throughout the 19th century were very active in public politics. They could
pursue this activity most easily when it was put under the sign of "morality" -
hence the widespread female involvement first with the movement to abolish slavery
(which was seen as especially immoral because of the assumed sexual exploitation), and
then with the attack on alchol.
It is important not to suggest that the moral concerns were a "cover",
but it is equally important to realize that alcohol was attacked not just because of
supposed religious objections, but because excessive use of alcohol destroyed the lives of
many women who faced drunken husbands.
||Number of Local, Auxiliary Unions
||# of states and territories with Unions
Norton Mezvinsky, "The White Ribbon Reform, 1874-1920 (Ph.D. dissertation,
University of Wisconsin, 1959): 68
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998