History of the WCTU
"The mission of the White Ribbon Women is to organize Christian
women for the peace and purity, the protection and
exaltation of our homes."
-Frances E. Willard
On December 13, 1873, Dr. Dio Lewis, a Boston physician, delivered a lecture in Fredonia NY. After the lecture, he was invited to deliver a temperance lecture the next day at a Sunday evening church service. He gave a forceful presentation about alcohol and his practical plans for action to stop the alcohol traffic. Rev. Lester Williams, pastor of the Baptist Church, asked the women to hold a meeting. Fifty women responded ready to act.
On Monday morning, December 15, 1873, at 10:00am, about 300 men and women met in the Fredonia Baptist Church. The men prayed while the women organized. The men pledge $1,000 to help the women carry out their work to stop the alcohol traffic. They adopted the name, The Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Fredonia.
In August, 1874, at the first National Sunday School Assembly held at Chautauqua, New York, Mrs. Mattie McClellan Brown of Ohio suggested a committee send out a call for a national, delegated convention to meet in Cleveland, Ohio, November 18-20.
Frances Willard was the 2nd National WCTU President and the most famous. She believed that women, as the moral guardians of the home, should be involved in public and political activity. She increased the reform activity initiated by the WCTU with choices for local chapters. This made it possible for large numbers of women to work with the temperance movement and on issues that were of concern to themselves.
This became know as Frances Willard's "Do Everything" policy. It was passed at the National 1882 WCTU Convention. It encouraged local chapters to work on any and all issues they deem important. This allowed very conservative chapters to avoid issues such as the "Home Protection Ballot" (women's right to vote).
Willard contrasted a national WCTU meeting with "any held by men: Its manner is not the of the street, the court, the mart, or office; it is the maker of the home." She used domestic imagery, beautiful decorations, banners of silk, satin and velvet, usually made by the women themselves, to adore the walls and platforms. She presented the room as "cozy and delightful as a parlor could afford."
She once commented, "We have been so busy making history we have not found time to record it." Therefore, in Do Everything (1895), she urged that "Each Union from the greatest to the least, should appoint a custodian of archives, souvenirs, and historic documents, who should also keep memoranda of its unfolding history."
The WCTU Administration Building in Evanston, Illinois holds WCTU's Library and Archives. The collection is extensive and is accessible to researchers. Many have come from around the world to learn more about women's history, including their fight for prohibition, the the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and and the work of the WCTU which gave women the right to vote, 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. .
Today, the WCTU continues its work to educate about the dangers of alcohol and other drug use. The WCTU works to protect families from all negative influences under its "Do Everything" policy.
The WCTU is the oldest, continuous woman's organization in the world. It was the major force behind obtaining the 18th and 19th Constitutional Amendments to the United States Constitution.
On the world level, the WCTU was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
National WCTU Presidents
Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer served as the first president of the WCTU from 1874 to 1879.
Miss Frances Willard became the national president of WCTU in 1879, and remained president until her death in 1898.
Mrs. Lillian M. N. Stevens was elected president of the National WCTU after the death of Frances Willard. Lillian served from 1899-1914.
Miss Anna Adams Gordon was national president of the WCTU when the Eighteenth Amendment was adpoted, a major figure in the Temperance movement. Anna served from 1914-1925.
Mrs. Ella Alexander Boole served from 1925-1933.
Mrs. Ida Belle Wise Smith served from 1933-1944. Ida was best known as the primary author of the Sheppard Bill in 1916 that imposed prohibition on Washington, D.C.
Mrs. Mamie White Colvin served as president of the WCTU from 1944-1953.
Mrs. Agnes Dubbs Hays served as president of the WCTU from 1953-1959.
Mrs. Ruth Tibbits Tooze served as president of the WCTU from 1959-1974.
Mrs. Edith Kirkendall Stanley served as president of the WCTU from 1974-1980.
Mrs. Martha Greer Edgar served as president of the WCTU from 1980-1988.
Mrs. Rachel Bubar Kelly served as president of the WCTU from 1988-1996. Rachel was the sister of Maine temperance lobbyist and Prohibition party leader Ben Bubar.
Miss Sarah F. Ward served as president of the WCTU from 1996-2006, and 2014-2019. Sarah is the author of "The White Ribbon Story," which details the history of the first 125 years of the WCTU in America.
Mrs. Rita K. Wert served as president of the WCTU from 2006-2014.
Mrs. Merry Lee Powell is the current president of the WCTU. Merry Lee began serving in 2019.