Join us as we highlight the religious underpinnings of the women’s reform movement of the late nineteenth century in America, with particular emphasis on the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the quite radical Protestant Christianity that many white and Black women in the nineteenth century utilized to push for women’s rights.

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Transcript : For Heart and Hearth… and the Rights of Women: Radical Christianity in Pursuit of Conservative Ends in the Nineteenth Century

Elizabeth: The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, known as the WCTU, was founded in 1874, during the midst of one of the most severe economic depressions in American history. The market crash and depression that began in 1873 lasted until 1877 and was remembered as the depression until it was overshadowed by another depression in 1893 and then the Great Depression of the 1930s. During the Panic of 1873, the religious revivals or “awakenings” as historians like to call them, of the nineteenth century were in full swing. Enormous urban revivals swept the United States in the mid-1870s and introduced new generations to Protestant Evangelism. Today’s episode is going to highlight the religious underpinnings of women’s reform movements of the late nineteenth century in America, with particular emphasis on the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the quite radical Protestant Christianity that many white and Black women in the nineteenth century utilized to push for women’s rights.

I’m Elizabeth

And I’m Sarah

And we are your historians for this episode of Dig

Sarah: The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) quickly became the largest women’s organization in the United States during the nineteenth century grew to over two hundred thousand members by 1892. Historian Kathryn Kish Sklar describes the WCTU as being a sort of woman’s church” to many of its members, with all the ceremonial trappings of ritual processions, symbolic regalia, and hierarchical lines of authority. Temperance societies, or organizations who advocated against the production and consumption of alcohol, existed for decades before the formation of the WCTU, but women always played secondary or auxiliary roles in those organizations. In fact, at a convention of temperance societies in New York in 1852, Susan B. Anthony rose to speak, but was informed “that the ‘ladies’ were there to listen, not to take part in the Proceedings.’ What made the WCTU different, and arguably more successful, was its female membership, it’s loose organization, and the dynamic skills of its second president, Frances Willard.

Elizabeth: The WCTU became an enormous organization that joined Protestant religion with social reforms intended to raise the status of women and the family. The abstention from alcohol served as the base of the movement, but the organization championed a variety of concerns that affected women including sexual exploitation, domestic violence, labor concerns, social reform, and women’s political empowerment. Historians disagree as to how this movement played out in the larger growth of American feminism and women’s rights. Scholars such as Barbara Epstein argue that movements like the WCTU acted as a stepping-stone for women to engage and champion women’s suffrage and women’s rights. Elaine Frantz Parsons sees the women of the WCTU embodying a Radical Conservatism that championed women’s rights and suffrage not as a way towards gender equality but as a way to return to protected and safe domesticity, free of the danger that drunk and violent men could pose to the domestic sphere. I fall in the middle, and see the Protestant Christian bent of the WCTU and the reforms it championed as an avenue for more political engagement for women. That naturally leads to more gender equality even while promoting the conservative protection of the domestic realm that was traditionally prescribed to white western women. It’s this interesting movement of radicalism in pursuit of conservative values. WCTU members were out speaking in public, holding huge rallies, and doing things like demanding votes for women and the end of a judicial system that set a sexual double standard for men and women- pretty radical stuff during the period.

Sarah: The ties between Protestant evangelicalism during the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century and the rise of feminism is a pretty well-worn topic. Many scholars argue that the rise of popular evangelism, particularly the growth of Methodism and the revivals of Charles Grandison Finney, supplied the moral outrage and religious fervor that empowered women to act publicly through voluntary and reform organizations. This in turn collectively taught women skills in public speaking, fundraising, and organization management that propelled them into the public sphere and politics. Scholar Nancy Hardesty has gone so far as to term this movement as Evangelical Feminism. However, the revivals of the later nineteenth century have been caste as a sort of “anti” progressive revivalism that buttressed traditionalist ideas about gender and undermined earlier evangelical movements toward greater gender equality by idealizing domestic motherhood and denouncing “public” women.

Elizabeth: The religious evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody held gigantic revival meetings across the Northeast during the 1870s. ( One little interesting tidbit, during the Civil War Moody was involved with the United States Christian Commission of the YMCA to preach and pass out Bibles to Union soldiers. You may remember that our favorite guy to hate, Anthony Comstock, was also a member of the Christian Commission. There’s no indication that Moody and Comstock met, but it’s still an interesting little sidebar.) Over two million Protestant Americans of all denominations, attended his revival meetings. Moody preached adherence to “traditional” interpretations of the bible, enjoining his listeners to have a “child-like” faith and interpret the Bible literally. He abhorred “metaphysics,” “science,” and those that questioned the divine inspiration of the scriptures. He cautioned against social activism and preached, “I have noticed that when a Christian man goes into the world to get an influence over the world, he suffers more than the world does.” He also believed that charity work was wrong and insisted that beggars should be allowed to “die off.” For Moody, individual not societal reform, was everything.[1]

Sarah: Listening to this, one would think that the millions of people who went to hear Moody speak would agree with everything he said. In fact, a large majority of the people who did hear him speak were women. However, historian Edward Blum argues that the rhetoric Moody espoused did not match the realities of the late nineteenth century women who supposedly supported him. Instead, more than ever, Gilded Age women pushed the boundaries of their prescribed religious and gender roles into an ever expanding public sphere. Interestingly, Frances Willard worked closely with Moody during the mid to late 1870s and spoke on the revival circuit with him. She, and other female evangelists who worked with him, did not exemplify the rhetoric that Moody espoused. Willard acted publicly and politically through temperance reforms and did not interpret the bible literally. In fact, many of the women leaders of the 1870s revivals were not the “praying mothers” that Moody preached women should be, but were leading very public careers and actively challenged traditional understandings of gender and women’s proper role. 

Sarah: Frances Willard, was the president of the WCTU 1879-1898, and became a household name. She was the first woman to have her statue placed in the Capitol, which was put there in 1905. Numerous scholars have pointed out that Willard conformed to the ideology of what scholar Barbara Welter has called the “Cult of True Womanhood,” which prescribed an ethos of piety, purity, and submission to motherly domesticity. Willard cast herself as “a noble maid…called reluctantly from her domestic duties to the podium only because her female sympathy impels her to speak for the helpless and the weak.”[2] However, as charismatic and successful as Willard was in leading the WCTU to massive success, this wasn’t a one-woman show. Thousands of middle-class women across the country joined local WCTU chapters and supported Williard and the organization in its reform efforts. Also, one of the reasons the WCTU was so successful was because local WCTU chapters had the freedom to champion causes that were near and dear to them. Naturally some chapters were more progressive in their politics than others but this freedom also helped solidify the WCTU as a national women’s powerhouse.

Frances Willard
Frances Willard | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth: However, Frances Willard was one of the most able politicians to lead a major women’s movement. Whether you view her as a champion of women’s rights or a harbinger of conservative gender norms, she was a political force to be reckoned with. Her goals were radical and she was a lifelong champion of women’s suffrage, but in an era where women were not full participating members of the body politic, Willard’s rhetoric and actions appealed to contemporary understandings of “proper” gender roles, which allowed her to bring her goals into mainstream acceptance. Willard stepped beyond the singular focus on curbing alcohol and, through her “Do Everything Policy,” championed a plethora of reforms to further promote the march towards women’s suffrage.

Elizabeth: The woman’s temperance movement began in Hillsboro, Ohio in 1873. Many women of Hillsboro, led by Eliza Jane Thompson, banded together in groups to visit local saloons, pray, and ask saloonkeepers to pledge to stop selling alcohol. The movement spread rapidly with these types of “crusades” happening across the country. And just a side note, although WCTU archives place the founding of the organization in Hillsboro, Ohio, there is evidence that the saloon crusades actually started about 60 miles south from where we are recording this podcast, in Fredonia, NY, (I just thought that was interesting). Regardless, these saloon crusades are attributed to Diocletian Lewis, a man with an honorary medical degree from the Homeopathic Hospital College of Cleveland, who mostly made his living traveling on the lyceum circuit. One of his speeches, which he gave over 300 times across the country, was a temperance lecture on “The Duty of Christian Women in the Cause of Temperance.” He told the story of his mother, who in response to his father’s chronic drunkenness, gathered a group of women in his hometown of Auburn, New York and convinced the local saloon to stop selling liquor through prayer and moral suasion. According to Lewis, the women were successful and the saloonkeeper closed his bar. After Lewis would give this speech, he would ask the women in the audience to do the same and in 1873 women began banding together is saloon crusades, going into bars, or standing outside of them in prayer. Within three months, groups of praying women had driven the liquor business out of 250 villages and cities.

Sarah: The first WCTU national convention was held in Cleveland, Ohio in 1874 and drew roughly three hundred women from sixteen states. From this first meeting, women controlled the organization and men were never allowed to be voting members of the WCTU. The convention elected a board with Annie Wittenmyer as president and Frances Willard as corresponding secretary. Willard became president in 1879 and the focus of the WCTU shifted from one concentrated on closing saloons to an ambitious “Do Everything” campaign, although the WCTU had begun to expand its scope before Willard became president. Within ten years the WCTU sponsored more than thirty-five areas of of public activism such as prison reform, public health, and improved working conditions for laborers. Because of the decentralized structure of the organization, individual chapters were able to focus their efforts on causes of their choosing.

Elizabeth: Many Black women leaders in the 1880s and 1890s were active in the WCTU’s “Department for Work among Negros,” as well as within their own chapters. As head of that department between 1883 and 1890, writer and reformer Frances Ellen Watkins Harper launched a broad national program of improvements for African-Americans. Harper’s advocacy centered on racial and gender uplift. She became the only Black women on the WCTU’s executive committee and board of superintendents. She was also the superintendent of the Colored Branch of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Chapters of the WCTU from 1875 to 1882, and director of the Northern United States Temperance Union from 1883 to 1890. Harper was a cofounder and vice-president of the National Association of Colored Women 1895 to the year of her death in 1911. Although she later criticized the WCTU as racist, she was a staunch advocate of temperance and her politics infused her literary endeavors. She upheld temperance as one of the pillars of racial uplift throughout the pages of her bestselling novel, Iola Leroy.[3] Harper was a pioneer in her writing, orations, and advocacy for temperance, suffrage, and equal opportunity, but she was hardly alone in her quest for gender and racial equality.

Sarah: The WCTU, particularly in the South, white women who might want to reach across the color line for mutual social benefits nevertheless operated in a world where true racial partnership was out of the question. Throughout the 1890s, the WCTU organized multiple “colored” women’s groups that were controlled by the local white women’s organization with the goal of “uplifting” the Black community under white guidance. This prompted Black women in North Carolina to organize the WCTU No. 2, which other Black women replicated across the South. The No. 2 organizations answered directly to the national WCTU, apart from local white women control.[4] The decentralized nature of the national WCTU enabled Black chapters to shape to the needs of their communities, not just fulfilling the needs of national or white reformers. Chapters were able to direct their energies where they saw fit, which allowed Black WCTU chapters to concentrate on projects that benefited African Americans in their communities. Although most WCTU chapters were segregated, especially in the South, white and black women both attended national meetings and Black women, like Naomi Anderson of Wichita, were hired as national organizers. Historian Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore highlights how in the early to mid-1890s African-Americans held political sway in North Carolina. However, the visibility of an upwardly mobile Black middle-class instigated a counter-response among upwardly mobile white supremacist “New Southern Men.” These white Democrats launched a gendered campaign in 1898 to retake power, which built on racial hysteria over purported unpunished rapes of white women by Black men. This served to overcome white class divisions in favor of racial solidarity and worked to disenfranchise Black men by in 1898. Thereafter, Black women found a new opportunities for entrance into the political realm as “diplomats” to the white community through organizations like the WCTU. Gilmore argues that Black middle-class women seemed less threatening than Black men, in an era of heightened post-Reconstruction racial violence, and therefore could more easily lobby in public for new Progressive era benefits and reforms which expanded Black women’s entrance into politics through Christian groups like the WCTU, civic clubs, and public health campaigns.

Elizabeth: Because the WCTU was such a large organization, there were many competing demands among the women in it’s membership. As Willard attempted to grow WCTU membership in the South, she made moral compromises when it came to issues of race and segregation. Famously, Willard and reformer and journalist Ida B. Wells had a very public debate over Willard’s lackluster support of Well’s anti-lynching campaign. In 1890, Willard was quoted as saying ‘Better whiskey and more of it’ is the rallying cry of great, dark-faced mobs …The safety of women, of childhood, of the home, is menaced in a thousand localities.” Wells went on to write that Willard “unhesitatingly slandered the entire Negro race in order to gain favor with those who are hanging, shooting and burning Negroes alive.” [5] The episode sheds light on how radical, reform-minded women like Willard could still fall short in the quest for full equality and work for suffrage and social welfare while also supporting a racial hierarchy. Nevertheless, Black women did participate in the WCTU when they had the power to control their own chapters.

“Capturing Congress,” The Hatchet, March 24, 1888. Frances Willard Historical Association, Political cartoon lampooning women commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention.

Sarah: In Willard’s first speech as the National WCTU president, she laid out the “Do Everything” policy with the goal of providing some interest of reform for a variety of women. The Union organized departments, which were led by women specialists in their fields. For example, the Social Purity Committee worked to combat domestic violence and exploitation while the “Home Protection Ballot” movement supported woman suffrage. Under “Do Everything,” the WCTU implemented hundreds of programs across the nation. Women taught temperance to children in Sunday schools, they led movements for free public kindergartens and prison reform. WCTU members operated nurseries, Sunday schools, homeless shelters, and homes for pregnant single women and sex workers. WCTU members supported such far reaching reforms such as labor reform, suffrage, disarmament, and “sensible” clothing, while opposing the manufacture of cigarettes and vivisection.

Elizabeth: The WCTU pushed for social purity only secondly to that of temperance. The Social Purity movement in the WCTU focused on combating the double standard of sexual morality, which they argued hurt women and families. The WCTU Committee for Work with Fallen Women strove to save prostitutes through Protestant christianity and temperance and worked closely with other rescue organizations like the Florence Crittenton Mission and the Salvation Army, both also evangelical christian organizations. By 1885, the name and emphasis of the Committee for Work with Fallen Women changed to the Department for Social Purity. The Department stressed preventative measures including providing temporary housing for women fleeing prostitution, “life-saving stations” for young girls entering the city for the first time, and mothers’ associations designed to encourage sex education for children. Committee members also advocated for raising the Age of Consent laws across America. These laws determined the age at which a girl could consent to sexual intercourse. Lower age of consent laws meant that a man only had to “prove” that a girl above the age had consented to sexual intercourse. Essentially, these laws protected men from charges of rape.

Sarah: W.T. Stead’s publication in the Pall Mall Gazette claiming that English gentlemen could easily procure the virginity of young girls throughout the London underground spurred the WCTU Social Purity Department to campaign for a rise in the age of consent laws in America. Stead’s expose showed that English law deemed girls of thirteen years old competent enough to consent to sexual intercourse. The WCTU’s campaign shocked Americans by pointing out that in America, the age at which a girl’s consent to sexual intercourse, and thus protection for men against rape charges, was just ten years old in most states! Advocates for raising the age of consent pointed out that girls could not marry or sell property at such a young age, therefore they should not be vulnerable to men who would rape them or make them prostitutes at such a young age either. Feminist and social purity advocate Helen Gardener summed it up thusly, “What good can it do any human being to have the age of consent below that at which honorable marriage or the right to sell property comes to a girl? … Whom is it intended to benefit? There can be but one answer. It is a law in the interest of the brothel, in the interest of the grade of men who prey upon the ignorance and helplessness of childhood.”[6] The WCTU and other social purity reformers hoped that by raising the age of consent, men would stop seeking commercial sex from younger prostitutes, thus curbing the entrance of young girls into the trade in the first place. Legislative efforts to raise the age of consent were successful, and in twenty states, the legislature raised the age to sixteen. The Social Purity Department also launched campaigns to revise prostitution, rape, and seduction laws during this period to protect women from an unfair judicial system.

Elizabeth: National WCTU recording secretary, Clara Cleghorne Hoffman summed up this sexual double standard through the sentimental oratory popular during the time at the first International Conference of Women meeting in 1888 by stating, “In thousands of homes everything seems to be perfectly pure, perfectly moral…and yet…hundreds go forth from these homes to swell the ranks of recognized prostitution, while thousands more go forth into the ranks of legalized prostitution under the perfectly respectable mantle of marriage. The fires of passion and lust lurk in these homes like the covered fires of Lucknow, only needing the occasion, only needing the temptation, to burst forth into flame, carrying death and destruction to every pure, and true and lovely attribute of heart and soul.”[7]

Sarah: Mary G. Charlton Edholm, Superintendent for Press Work of the WCTU, railed against women and girls sexual exploitation in her book, Traffic in Girls, writing about one court case, “The unsuspecting child followed him, carried away with the dream of the promised presents. The door opened; the bolt turned; the screams of the child availed not. She left the room robbed of her virginity and started on the path of prostitution.”[8] Edholm’s anecdote grossly highlighted how the double standard operated in a legal system with low age of consent laws. The girl was raped and no longer a virgin, making her “spoiled” in the marriage market. The low age of consent law prevented her from having any redress in court. Edholm wrote, “Had she any redress? No, for the man would swear that she had accompanied him of her own free will, hoping to get the jewelry; and even though she did not understand what he wanted with her, the judge and jury, themselves fathers of little girls, would hold the child guilty and the man innocent.’ If you ask why they would so hold, the answer is that the child was over the age which the state at that time assumed to protect little children from the lust of men…”[9] These laws operated within a penal system that did weigh a woman’s testimony as credible as a man’s. Even if a charge of rape could be brought, “unless a girl dies in the attempt to defend her honor, her innocence must be proved to the satisfaction of a jury of men.”[10]

Elizabeth: These situations pushed many WCTU members to call for female oversight in the courts and prisons. This rested on the idea that women were more virtuous and moral, so if they were part of the penal system, this kind of corruption would not occur. Reformers argued that police matrons were better suited to protect women and girls within the court system and would be there to intervene if the woman or girl was a potential candidate for a reform organization. The WCTU supported the use of police matrons, arguing they were an excellent way to intervene in the lives of women arrested for prostitution or public drunkenness. They succeeded in having police matrons hired in several cities between 1876 and 1888.[11] WCTU and Florence Crittenton volunteers were a common fixture in womens and juvenile courts, wearing ribbons printed with the words, “Florence Crittenton Home, Can I Help You?” or member of the white-cross crusade or whatever, to show they were there to help.[12]

A Florence Crittendon Home
The Children’s Aid Society’s Elizabeth Home for Girls, later a Florence Crittendon Home | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sarah: Although most middle-class social purity reformers operated under the sometimes-false assumption that the only reason women and girls would enter prostitution was because of trickery or abduction, they still were advocating for laws that would protect women and girls from men. So here again is this idea of radical conservatism – protecting the virtue or morality of women from the corruption of men, so that those impressionable and vulnerable women can go on to be good wives and mothers. This motto of “do everything” – so they were for suffrage, they were against child labor, they were part of the social purity movement – not because they were prudes but out of a feminist consciousness that women were being exploited.

Elizabeth: This often met fierce resistance, as what protected women and girls often endangered the long-standing prerogatives of men. For example, in Iowa in 1888, in response to pressure from the WCTU, the Iowa assembly raised the age of consent from ten to thirteen years of age. Those against the measure argued that the increased age made men “liable to imprisonment for life for yielding to the solicitation of a prostitute.”[13] In another instance, men argued that, “there are wild and bad and perverted girls, who would lay traps for inexperienced boys, who are not over eighteen years of age, and by threats thereafter blackmail them into marriage.”[14] So essentially arguing that men would be entrapped by designing women. Sound familiar? Essentially, opponents argued that raising the age of consent would curtail men’s freedom when it came to have sex with whomever they wished. These types of social purity reforms were liberal in their quest for a single standard of morality for both men and women, yet conservative in its insistence to enforce white, middle-class, Protestant notions of sexual morality on the public at large.

Sarah: As early as 1874, Willard supported woman’s suffrage “for God and Home and Native Land,” and proposed to then WCTU president Wittenmyer that a proposal be made at the annual convention of 1876 in support of suffrage. In this first iteration, Willard proposed female suffrage only for issues touching the home – temperance and education. However, by 1881 as the common understanding of the scope of issues affecting women expanded, the “Home Protection Ballot” evolved into a universal call for woman’s suffrage, even when women’s right to vote was still a radical cause among many Americans. For the next twenty years, WCTU members served as the grass roots for the suffrage movement even though not all local WCTU chapters accepted the suffrage resolution. Some chapters ignored it completely while others pushed for state and federal constitutional amendments to allow women the right to vote. The Nebraska state WCTU sent a petition to the United States House of Representatives stating that, “As wives, mothers, and citizens we know our rights and will defend them—peaceably if we can, with severe measures if we must,” when they expressed their support for an 1886 House bill that proposed constitutional amendment that “prohibited disenfranchisement on the basis of sex.”

Elizabeth: So how did women like Frances Willard push back against people that thought women had no place in politics? She presented herself as a mild-mannered, conservative woman but many of her ideas were distinctly radical for her day and she and other WCTU reformers were successful in transforming these radical issues into mainstream platforms. One way she did this was to emphasis the piety inherent in her activism, insisting her crusade was essentially under the authority of divine direction. She wrote in her autobiography, “While upon my knees alone…there was borne in upon my mind, as I believe, from loftier regions, the declaration, “You are to speak for woman’s ballot as a weapon of protection to her home and tempted loved one from the tyranny of drink,” and then…there flashed through my mind a complete line of argument and illustration.”[15] Willard is essentially saying that God or Jesus, I can’t remember if she specifies, is basically telling her that she must do this reform work. That he wants her to spread this gospel.

Sarah: Also, to counter charges that she was acting “unwomanly,” Willard and others embraced the so-called “womanly virtues” so integral to understandings of the nineteenth century white middle-class, namely love of home and family. Thus, Willard and other WCTU reformer’s radicalism was always couched in the understanding that these reforms were for the protection of the home. This was imbued with a type of christian piety. Scholars Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Patricia Bizzell both argue that the sermon-like qualities of Willard’s speeches and activism harkened to Methodist ministers and “induced in their hearers and emotional experience to religious conversion.” Bizzell goes further to argue that Willard’s speeches hit a chord among a large swath of middle-class white women who would have recognized the “type of womanly spiritual ethos” associated with lay Methodist women orators. Afterall, Methodism at the time was the largest religious denomination in nineteenth-century America. And, even if not Methodist oneself, most Protestant women were familiar with the Protestant rhetorical style that Willard utilized. It shouldn’t be lost on our listeners that the majority of women reformers and women’s rights leaders in the nineteenth century were deeply influenced and indebted to evangelical christianity.[16] This really was religion and religious women acting radically!

Elizabeth: Willard was a theologian, so to speak. She was raised a devout Methodist and understood her faith as a central tenet of her lifelong struggle for women’s rights. In 1888 she published Women in the Pulpit, which expanded on her analysis of gender and the interpretation of biblical scripture. She argued that most pastors used “literal” bibilical interpretations to subjugate women and argued this was done in the same whay that southern antebellum pastors used the bible to defend slavery. Willard believed that the only way to counteract the deleterious male viewpoints was to have more female theologians. She wrote, “We need women commentators to bring out the women’s side of the book…we need the stereoscopic view of truth in general, which can only be had when woman’s eye and man’s together shall discern the perspectives of the Bible’s full-orbed revelation.”

Sarah: Willard avoided specifically calling for women to be preachers in the technical sense, but advocated for women’s contributions to biblical understandings. She wrote, “it is men who have taken the simple, loving, tender Gospel of the New Testament, so suited to be the proclamation of a woman’s lips, and translated it in terms of sacerdotalism, dogma, and martyrdom. It is men who have given us the dead letter rather than the living Gospel. The mother-heart of God will never be known to the world until translated into terms of speech by mother-hearted women. Law and love will never balance in the realm of grace until a woman’s hand shall hold the scales.”[17]

Elizabeth: Willard viewed this as part of her all encompassing view of women’s rights and argued that “the right to preach is but one phase of a larger question, the rights of woman as woman.” In the late 1880s Willard became more involved in the American labor movement and in 1893 proclaimed herself a Christian Socialist. Historian Mari Jo Buhle, who wrote a pivotal book on women Socialists in nineteenth century America, argues that Willard championed Christian socialism as “the grandest expression of woman’s instinct for moral perfection,” even if by 1900 the romanticism of Willard’s “heroic vision” of social change had come to seem out of step with the “realism” that was increasingly championed by American Socialists. Many commentators have pointed out that the radicalism of the WCTU faded after Willard’s death. Yes, more conservative women stayed on in the WCTU into the twentieth century, more of the radical members moved on into newer activist organizations like those working exclusively for women suffrage. So for many, the WCTU did act as a stepping stone for more progressive reforms in the lives of many activist women.


Frances Willard: Radical Woman in a Classic Town

Edward Blum, “Paul Has Been Forgotten”: Women, Gender, and revivalism during the Gilded Age,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Vol. 3, No. 4 (2004): 247-270.

Patricia Bizzell, “Frances Willard, Phoebe Palmer, and the Ethos of the Methodist Woman Preacher,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 4 (2006): 377-398.

Ruth Bordin, Frances Willard : A Biography, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986).

Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981).

Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American Socialism, 1870-1920, (Urbana: University of Illinoi Press, 1981).

Nicole Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching, (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Nan Johnson, Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910, (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002).

Erin M. Masson, “The Women ‘s Christian Temperance Union 1874-1898: Combating Domestic Violence,” William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice, Vol. 3, Issue 1, 1997: 163-188.

Elaine Frantz Parsons, Manhood Lost: Fallen Drunkards and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Rebecca Edwards, Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era, Oxford University Press, 1997.

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Francis Myron Whitaker, A History of the Ohio Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 1874-1920, (Ohio State University PhD Dissertation, 1971).

Frances E. Willard, Fifty years: The Autobiography of an American Woman, Boston: Woman’s Temperance Publication Association, Geo. M. Smith and Company, 1889.


[1] Blum, 247-270.

[2] Nan Johnson, Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910, (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press 2002), 113.

[3] Harper, 158-160, 173-174, 185-186, 188.

[4] Gilmore, 50-51.

[5] Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

[6] Willard and Gardener, “The Shame of America- The Age of Consent Laws in the United States: A Symposium.”

[7] “Report of the International council of women,” National woman suffrage association, Washington, D.C., U. S. of America, March 25 to April 1, 1888, 283-284.

[8] Charlton Edholm, Traffic in Girls and Work of Rescue Missions (Sierra, 1899), 128.

[9] Frances Willard and Helen Gardener, “The Shame of America- The Age of Consent Laws in the United States: A Symposium.,” The Arena 11, no. 62 (January 1895),192-215.

[10] The Arena 11, no. 62 ,192-215.

[11] Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers, 60; Sharon E. Wood, The Freedom of the Streets: Work, Citizenship, and Sexuality in a Gilded Age City, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 104.

[12]Girls vol. 13, (1910) .

[13] Wood, 4.

[14] The Arena 11, no. 62),192-215.

[15] Frances E. Willard, Fifty years: The Autobiography of an American Woman, (Boston: Woman’s Temperance Publication Association, Geo. M. Smith and Company, 1889), pg 351.

[16] Nancy Hardesty, Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the 19th Century, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 9.

[17] Frances Willard, Women in the Pulpit, (Chicago: Woman’s Christian Temperance Publication Association, 1889) 17-24, 46-47.

1 Comment

Age of Consent – The Accused Witch · March 28, 2023 at 1:50 pm

[…] age made men “liable to imprisonment for life for yielding to the solicitation of a prostitute.”[13] In another instance, men argued that, “there are wild and bad and perverted girls, who would […]

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