The Women's Christian Temperance Union;
"The Light of God's Truth . . . "
By Melanie Morris
The Women's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) believed "The light of God's truth does shine wherever the Women's Christian Temperance Union proclaims its message of truth, purity and total abstinence." It is a message they have been delivering in the Brookville area for over 100 years.
In November 1874, an organization of Christian women banded together at Cleveland, Ohio " . . . for the protection of the home, the abolition of the liquor traffic and the triumph of Christ's Golden Rule in custom and law."
Miss Frances Willard was a delegate to the convention and wrote the Declaration of Principles still in use. Born in Churchville, N.Y., 15 miles west of Rochester, she was a temperance leader and early feminist. A Methodist, she was sent to an all-girls college that taught the Methodist teachings. The Methodist churches were the first temperance organizations in America.
In December 1873, praying bands of women spontaneously began an antisaloon crusade in several Ohio and western New York towns. This movement spread through the midwest and into the east. In about six months some 3,000 saloons were said to have closed.
The next summer Chicago women who were organizing a temperance group asked Frances Willard to be their leader. In October, at a statewide convention in Bloomington, Ill. she was elected secretary of the group. The next month she was sent as a delegate to the Cleveland convention where the national WCTU was formed. She was chosen as the secretary.
Early in 1877 she resigned her post with the Chicago Union -her only source of income - for a position with the famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody. This gave her the freedom to continue her W.C.T.U. work.
In 1878 she was chosen as the president of the Illinois W.C.T.U. She understood significant changes could only come through a change in laws. She conceived the idea of a huge petition asking women of each state be given the vote on liquor issues. With the assistance of Anna Gordon, the names of more than 100,000 women were secured and the "Home Protection" was presented to the state legislature in March 1879.
The W.C.T.U. grew to include over two million women but in 1897, Willard's health began to fail.
As the century grew to a close, she made her final return to England in a pilgrimage to ancestral shrines and childhood homes and at Dr. Cordelia A. Greene's Sanatorium in Castile, N.Y. She died in New York City in 1898 at the age of 58.
The W.C.T.U. shifted its emphasis and concentrated on the issues of prohibition and total abstinence. Simultaneously, a cult worship in her memory produced an idealized myth of her life and thoughts, typified by such as Anna Gordon's "The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Williard" which provided a hint of the complexities of her personality. In 1905, Illinois placed her statue in the Capitol at Washington, D.C.
Though her dream of an inclusive women's reformist organization has not been fully realized, Frances Willard had succeeded for 20 years in holding the loyalty and confidence of a generation of conservative women.
The W.C.T.U. still exists in Jefferson County but the only chapter still meets. The group meets at 10:30 a.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the homes of the members of the First United Methodist Church. New members are alway welcome.
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