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The Women's Christian Temperance Union

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Involvement with the WCTU

President of the WCTU

Superintendent of the Department of Scientific Temperance Union (STI)


Women's Christian Temperance UnionThe Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was one of the earliest, strongest, and most activist women's organizations in Canada during the early 20th century. Established in the United States in 1873 by Frances E. Willard, it was an organization devoted to protecting the home and strengthening family life—but its greatest goal was achieving total prohibition. The first WCTU in Canada was established in Ontario in 1894, after which further chapters sprang up across the young Dominion, carried westward by settlers like Louise McKinney.

As a result of its pro-family agenda, the WCTU was interested in legislation targeted specifically at the family. Topics of concern were the abolition of liquor traffic (later, anti-narcotic and anti-smoking legislation as well), eugenics and sex hygiene, female suffrage, and social reform legislation. In addition, the Unions sought to promote Christian values, which involved including Bible reading and the Lord's Prayer in schools, as well as addressing the issue of obscene literature in bookstores. Members were also interested in marriage license requirements, new Canadians and citizenship, supervised playgrounds, and the peace movement.

10 commandments on liquorIn order to achieve "thorough and systematic cooperation" in the advancement of these aims, a Dominion "department" was established for each cause. Each department was headed by a "Specialist" in the subject, whose duty it was to develop a blueprint for action that would be carried out by "Superintendents" at the provincial and local levels. If the WCTU's influence is any indication, this strategy for organization worked. Some of the departments were Scientific Temperance Instruction; Legislation and Petition; Franchise; Heredity and Health; Purity; Foreign Work; Exhibitions and Fairs; Narcotics; and Prisons.

The list above mentions only a few of the WCTU's departments. The Union also ran innumerable homes and other relief and rescue institutions.

Womens Christian Temperance Union convention, Calgary, Alberta, October, 1911. Louise McKinney at front center.The huge variety of issues addressed by this activist organization had one thing in common: the belief that each of these contributed to strengthening the home and family, and on the whole, society. As the home was the focus of their efforts, the WCTU provided an outlet for women's ideas, ambitions, and energies, and provided them with "legitimate" access into the traditionally public sphere—the world of politics and business.

Getting women organized and allowed WCTU members to act outside of the sphere they were traditionally accustomed to in the interests of achieving social change caused women to develop a whole new range of skills and experience. They earned experience in organizing women, embarked on education campaigns, lobbied for their causes, and worked elections. They grew accustomed to criticism, learned to accept defeat and to persevere through intense opposition, even when the possibility of success seemed remote.

Heritage Trail: Edmonton Bawdy House Raids 1911-1914: Part III
Between 1911 and 1914, Edmonton waged a seesaw battle against drinking, gambling, and prostitution in the city's downtown. One police chief known for his leniency was fired, rehired, and fired again…while his replacements were also fired - but for cracking down too hard on the citizens of Edmonton. As historian David Leonard explains, it was against this backdrop that Alderman Joe Clarke and Mayor W. H. McNamara promoted their own prescription to cure Edmonton's moral woes.
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