The 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.
In 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.
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.