Group pressed for women’s rights, vote

Published April 1, 1999

The preceding verse, taken from a prohibition song, details the central tenets of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union: protection of the family, an abhorrence for alcohol consumption, and an evangelical belief in the power of Christ to change lives and bring order to society. Sprouting from a movement begun in the United States, the first WCTU in Canada was organized in 1874. By 1897, more than 21,000 women were members in the Dominion WCTU with branches located across Canada. The organization crossed denominational boundaries and united women from both rural and urban areas in the belief that alcohol and other addictive substances such as tobacco were societal evils. WCTU members educated the public about the evils of alcohol from early childhood onwards. Mothers enrolled their young children in the Little White Ribboners, signing enrolment cards stating that they promised to protect their children from alcohol use. After graduating from the Little White Ribboners around the age of six, a child could join the Loyal Temperance Legion. A Young Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was established for young, predominantly unmarried women. In addition to reforming individual lives, the WCTU lobbied government to pass laws prohibiting alcohol, among other reforms. Members believed God had given women the role of protecting home, family and country; political activism was an extension of this role. Prominent Canadian feminist Nellie McClung echoed this perspective: “A woman’s place is in the home; and out of it whenever she is called to guard those she loves and to improve conditions for them.”In the early years of the organization, government lobbying was done primarily through writing letters, holding temperance parades and organizing petitions. These efforts were time-consuming and often ineffective, however. The key to winning prohibition was through the ballot box, so the WCTU became an advocate of gaining the vote for women. The WCTU’s moral stance gave a socially acceptable face to the women’s rights movement, contributing to its acceptance by Canadian society. Although diminished in numbers, the WCTU continues to hold firm to the belief that abstinence is the solution to alcohol problems in society. The organization lobbies government on issues related to addictive substances and funds charitable organizations whose goals are consistent with those of the WCTU.


Keep on reading

Skip to content