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Our Plural History | Springfield, MA

The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was the strongest supporter of outlawing alcohol in the United States. By 1890 the organization had grown into the largest women's organization of the nineteenth century. In Springfield, MA there were at least two chapters of the WCTU.
Courtesy of the Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, MA.

Primary Resources Archive

Women's Christian Temperance Union(s) of Springfield
Temperance, the movement to outlaw alcohol, was a major movement in the Untied States that culminated in the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1919. Supporters of temperance hailed from various backgrounds. Some supported the movement on religious grounds, others sought the protection the family and of peoples health. Employers hoped temperance would create a more reliable and efficient workforce.

Often leading the temperance movement were women. At a time when women were not allowed a formal role in politics this movement offered them an opportunity to be a public force for change. Leading this effort nationally was the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Founded in 1874 the WCTU grew into the largest female organization of the nineteenth century with a membership of 150,000 by 1890.

From the many pamphlets and activities the organization distributed the WCTU defined their mission as, “The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is an organization of Christian Women banded together for the protection of the home, the abolition of the liquor traffic and the triumph of Christ’s Golden Rule in custom and in law.” Eventually, the WCTU expanded its efforts and developed an inclusive reform platform including women's right to vote.

In Springfield, MA the WCTU was represented by at least two chapters - the Armory Hill WCTU and the Springfield Central WCTU. The WCTU seems to have had representatives in most of the area's churches. In 1922 the WCTU was represented in twenty-three local churches.

The work of the WCTU was expansive. It included youth outreach, lobbying local and national legislatures for temperance reform, lecturing to prisoners and the homeless, lobbying for and creating temperance education curriculum, and sending care packages to lumber workers and sailors. Such care packages included hygiene supplies, blankets, and bibles.

Firm in their belief that alcohol led to health problems, ruined families, led to loss of employment, and that the proliferation of saloons was denigrating the nations morals, the WCTU adopted a zero tolerance policy toward alcohol. However, such a view was often at odds with people from all walks of life. Many questioned the validity of one group deciding what was best for other people. For some, this appeared to be one group imposing their morals and beliefs on others. Others, especially those who enjoyed an occasional alcoholic beverage, resented the WCTU's attempts to limit their activities.

For many, the WCTU's activities represented a direct assault on their personal freedoms. Still others, including saloon keepers and urban residents, opposed the WCTU's goal of shutting down saloons. Indeed, in the cramped urban environment of nineteenth and early twentieth century America, saloons offered a gathering place for families, for political and labor organizing, as well as a place for general socializing. Such differences in opinion raise numerous questions about whether or not anyone has the right to restrict the freedom of others, even if some believe they are doing it for the greater good.

The work of the WCTU demonstrates the active role women took in influencing public affairs despite being banned from main stream politics. The pamphlets found below, courtesy of the Museum of Springfield History, offer a glimpse into the membership and organizational activities of the local WCTU.

Springfield Armory Hill WCTU Descriptive Pamphlet [PDF]
This pamphlet most likely served as a recruiting and publicity tool. It discusses the purpose of the WCTU as well its numerous activities.

Springfield Armory Hill WCTU 1910-1911 Brochure [PDF]
This brochure for 1910-1911 provides a list of local officers, the WCTU pledge, their motto, and even a song.

Springfield Armory Hill WCTU 1912-1913 Brochure [PDF]
This brochure from 1912-1913 offers a year long program of events. In addition, the brochure includes a benediction to be read at WCTU meetings, listing of officers, and the organizations 'watch words': "Agitate, Educate, Organize."

Springfield Armory Hill WCTU 1930-1931 Brochure [PDF]
Even though the WCTU had achieved its goal of outlawing alcohol the group remained active in 1930 and beyond. By this time, the organization had expanded its platform to include women's rights, industrialization and labor organizing, as well as other topics of concern to their communities.

Springfield Central WCTU 1921-1922 Organizational Pamphlet [PDF]
Springfield, MA had at least two chapters of the WCTU each serving a different section of the city. This pamphlet from 1921-1922 offers the names of WCTU officers, committee members, and a list of "church secretaries" and the churches they belonged to. In addition, the pamphlet includes their annual report as well as a report from the treasurer that provides an itemized listing of income and expenses for 1920.

Hampden County WCTU - Program from the 1906 Summer Convention
In addition to the two chapters in Springfield the WCTU was also organized on the county and state levels. In 1906 the Hampden County WCTU held their summer convention at the Hope Congregational Church located on State Street in Springfield, MA. This program includes the WCTU Massachusetts state song.

"Temperance Education Law" - Springfield Republican, March 1, 1899 [PDF]
This articles discusses the efforts and arguments of a Springfield, MA temperance committee to get temperance education, what they termed "scientific temperance education," included in the public school curriculum. The group wanted school committees to ensure that teachers make room in the curriculum for “three lessons a week for ten weeks of the school year, for physiology and hygiene, which shall contain special instruction as to the nature and effects of alcoholic drinks and other narcotics, and shall provide graded text-books” for use by students. Against the argument that such an addition to the normal school curriculum would be prohibitively expensive the committee countered, “It is cheaper to save the boy by purchasing the books that teach him not to drink, than to arrest and punish him later for crime caused by drinking.”

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