Throwback Thursday: Prohibition and the WCTU

Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!

So far for Women’s History Month, we’ve looked at women’s athletic history and the story of the first woman to be elected to any public office in Indiana. Today we’re going to focus on the one of the most prominent women’s organizations in U.S. women’s history: The Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

WCTU Fountain

WCTU Fountain on courthouse square – Auburn, Indiana

The prohibition movement had faced ups and downs since its beginnings in the 1820s, but after the Civil War, it found new momentum. Sparking this shift was the Prohibition Party, created in 1869, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was officially organized in November of 1874, at a temperance convention held in Cleveland, Ohio.

The WCTU’s goal was a “sober and pure world,” inspired by the Greek writer Xenophon, who defined temperance as “moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful.” And since the organization viewed alcohol as harmful, they put a great deal of effort into eliminating it from society.

In reality, this played out in a variety of ways. Some WCTU members would participate in “pray-ins,” where they would protest and pray outside of saloons. Others would write and distribute pro-temperance literature, or provide alternatives to drinking alcohol, such as coffee houses or public drinking fountains. There were also a few extremists, such as Carrie Nation, who was known for destroying the property of taverns with her hatchet.

Prohibition Postcard

Prohibition-era Postcard

Though best known for their views on alcohol, the WCTU also focused on other aspects of social reform, such as labor laws, prison reform, and women’s suffrage—though these causes sometimes suffered when pushed by the WCTU, due to opposition from anti-Prohibition organizations.

In DeKalb County, the organization had been active practically since 1874, when it was first organized. According to John Martin Smith, there were WCTU unions active in Auburn, Garrett, Corunna, Waterloo, and Butler. Together, they placed a WCTU fountain on the courthouse square in 1890, which was later removed for the construction of our present courthouse.

Several important women in the community were WCTU members, including Dr. Lida Leasure, Anna Cosper McIntosh, and Louisa Hauenstein Davis, whom you can read about in Sharon Zonker’s Twelve Remarkable Women of DeKalb County, here at the Genealogy Center.

Want to see more? Search our online photo database, check out the Genealogy Center’s official Facebook page, or read some of our posts on DeKalb County women such as Bonnell Souder, Vesta Swarts, Lida Leasure, and Jane Brooks Hine


About Chelsea

I've been working at Willennar Genealogy Center for over two years now, and I've loved every minute of getting to learn more about the stories of DeKalb County and the surrounding area. I'm interested in all kinds of history, but I'm especially fond of the early film industry, old letters and journals, the DeKalb County Fair, and the Interurban line.
This entry was posted in Throwback Thursday, What's Up At Willennar and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Throwback Thursday: Prohibition and the WCTU

  1. Pen Mettert says:

    I wonder what happened to that fountain? It would be cool if it could be found and used again.

  2. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: Bonnell Souder’s Travels | Charlie Chat

  3. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: Ladies’ Literary Society | Charlie Chat

  4. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: The No-Tobacco League | Charlie Chat

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