Founded in 1874, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WTCU) is a national, non-sectarian group that began in Cleveland, Ohio to help combat what members felt were the destructive effects of alcohol consumption on families. Although its name contains the word christian, a non-sectarian organization is one that is not affiliated with any particular religious order. Inspired by temperance demonstrations, the group started to form in 1873, in northeastern U.S. states like New York and Ohio. The WCTU quickly became one of the most powerful women’s groups of the 19th century, and, in the 20th century, expanded its platform to include anything that it deemed harmful to the traditional family unit.
Temperance movements have been active in many countries and are basically social campaigns against the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In the United States, the movement started in the 18th century, but became officially organized, with the foundation of the American Temperance Society, in 1826. Movements like this are also known as prohibition — short for 'prohibition of alcohol' — and teetotalism movements. Teetotalism is the abstinence from alcohol, and practitioners are known as teetotalers.
Annie Wittermeyer was the first president of the group. She felt that it was important that the organization focus on its main issue, the dangers of alcohol, and not dilute its platform by taking on other issues like suffrage, which was the right of women to vote and to hold public office. When Frances Willard took over as the group’s leader in 1879, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union added suffrage to the platform. Willard believed that women should be able to vote on matters that pertained to alcohol. Her efforts to have the WCTU take a more active role in politics, however, were unsuccessful.
The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union still exists. To join, prospective members must take a pledge promising to abstain from any alcohol consumption and pay dues. The group has added other issues to its platform, including campaigns against abortion, cigarette smoking, illegal drugs, and same-sex marriage.
The family unit and the sanctity of human life are very important to the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. It defines a family unit as one man and one woman. These beliefs help explain their stance on same-sex marriage and abortion.
The group still focuses on fighting any consumed substance that it feels is harmful, like drugs and alcohol, but it also tries to educate people on activities that some consider addictive, such as gambling and pornography. Illicit substances and degenerative pastimes are thought, by members, to be hazardous influences. Therefore, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union seeks to create and protect communities that are free from such deleterious substances and influences.