Woman's Christian Temperance Union collection, 1870s-1980s

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Woman's Christian Temperance Union, Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, and Baskin, Lisa Unger, former owner
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in 1874 by women seeking to limit or prohibit alcohol sale and consumption in the United States. It rapidly grew to become a global organization, led by Frances Willard between 1879 and 1898. WCTU members advocated for women's suffrage, prohibition, and social reform. This collection contains a variety of WCTU materials from different regions, particularly chapters in Maine and California, and WCTU headquarters in Illinois. Items include manuscripts, printed materials, printed ephemera, photographs, and souvenirs spanning the late 19th through mid-20th century.
15 Linear Feet (12 boxes, 1 oversize folder, 1 oversize banner)
Materials in English.
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The collection contains assorted materials documenting the activities and membership of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and its local and regional chapters. Items include manuscripts and archives from some local organizations, including membership lists, record books, scrapbooks, treasury logs, and correspondence; WCTU-issued literature, souvenirs, or printed materials collected by members about temperance; photographs of WCTU events and activities, such as parades, processions, conventions, and community programs like youth education, dairy bars, or other tabling; assorted postcards, including images of WCTU-funded public drinking fountains, parades, and floats; some textiles, include oversize banners used in processions or at conventions; and various memorial and commemorative materials for Frances Willard, indicating her widespread influence on WCTU's mission and outreach in the late 1800s.

The collection's materials largely document WCTU activities in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. A small segment of the collection relates to WCTU's global reach, and some materials document mid- and late-20th century WCTU conventions and programs up to around 1990.

Biographical / historical:

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is an international, non-partisan, non-denominational, non-profit organization. According to the WCTU website (accessed in January 2024), the organization exists to "to educate all people, with the help of God, to total abstinence from alcohol, illegal drugs, and tobacco as a way of life." Originating among women in the United States Prohibition movement, it was among the first international organizations of women devoted to social reform and played an influential role in the temperance movement. The temperance movement, which sought to eliminate the consumption of alcohol, had a large influence on American politics and American society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, culminating in the prohibition of alcohol through the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment was ratified in 1920 and repealed in 1933.

The WCTU was originally organized on December 23, 1873, in Hillsboro, Ohio, and officially declared at a national convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874. Two years after its founding, the American WCTU sponsored an international conference at which the International Women's Christian Temperance Union was formed. The World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union was founded in 1883 and became the international arm of the organization, which has currently has affiliates in Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, India, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States, among others.

The second president of WCTU, white feminist Frances Willard, was elected in 1879 and grew the organization to be the largest organization of women in the world by 1890. She remained president until her death in 1898. The WCTU, while a predominantly white organization, has a significant Black and indigenous membership. The WCTU perceived alcohol as a cause and consequence of larger social problems and, as a result, has also engaged in a number of other social reform issues such as labor, prisons, prostitution, public health, sanitation, suffrage, and international peace.

Source: https://www.wctu.org, accessed 2024 January 11.

Acquisition information:
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union Collection was received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2015 and 2016. Portions acquired as part of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection (2015).
Processing information:

Processed by Laura Micham, January 2024

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2015-0032, 2016-0062.


The collection is sorted into series: Printed Matter, Ephemera, and Manuscripts; Leaders; Postcards; Music; Photographs; and Textiles. These are largely arranged by format; within the Printed Matter, Ephemera, and Manuscripts series, materials are arranged geographically.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Access restricted. Viewing the Suffrage Banners (in the Textile Series) may require extra assistance from staff. Contact Research Services for access.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Woman's Christian Temperance Union Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.