Women’s Christian Temperance Union and Alcohol
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Alcohol consumption has always been a divisive issue in American society. From the practices of the earliest settlers to the impact alcohol has had on the native peoples of this nation, it is no wonder that there have been several movements to limit, if not ban altogether, alcohol consumption in the United States.
The first appearance of a movement to regulate alcohol consumption in the United States was called temperance. This originated in a time period when women had few, if any, legal rights. Women who worked did not have rights to their earnings; it went to their husband. Women had no authority over how their husband’s earning were spent, either. If he chose to take his wages to the local saloon and drink them away, leaving no money for food, rent, or childcare, there was little a woman could do. Additional, alcohol abuse often led to increased rates of domestic violence, offering women little protection from such injurious treatment.
The result of this was the creation of several groups designed to combat excessive alcohol consumption in the United States, one of the most famous of which was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU tried to enact locally-based temperance education programs to teach individuals about the perils of alcohol abuse. Middle-class women were some of the leading members of this group, working to protect their lower-class, and thus more vulnerable, sisters. Unfortunately, with little political influence and even fewer legal rights, the WCTU was overshadowed by a male-dominated temperance organization seeking many of the same goals: the Anti-Saloon League. Regardless of their differences, the two groups were able to work together to inform the public about the dangers of alcohol consumption, contributing in some way to the eventual passage of the 18th Amendment, banning the manufacture, sale, or distribution of alcoholic beverages in the United States.