Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930

Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930

Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930

Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880-1930


Frances Willard founded the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1884 to carry the message of women's emancipation throughout the world. Based in the United States, the WCTU rapidly became an international organization, with affiliates in forty-two countries. Ian Tyrrell tells the extraordinary story of how a handful of women sought to change the mores of the world -- not only by abolishing alcohol but also by promoting peace and attacking prostitution, poverty, and male control of democratic political structures.

In describing the work of Mary Leavitt, Jessie Ackermann, and other temperance crusaders on the international scene, Tyrrell identifies the tensions generated by conflict between the WCTU's universalist agenda and its own version of an ideologically and religiously based form of cultural imperialism. The union embraced an international and occasionally ecumenical vision that included a critique of Western materialism and imperialism. But, at the same time, its mission inevitably promoted Anglo-American cultural practices and Protestant evangelical beliefs deemed morally superior by the WCTU.

Tyrrell also considers, from a comparative perspective, the peculiar links between feminism, social reform, and evangelical religion in Anglo-American culture that made it so difficult for the WCTU to export its vision of a woman-centered mission to other cultures. Even in other Western states, forging links between feminism and religiously based temperance reform was made virtually impossible by religious, class, and cultural barriers. Thus, the WCTU ultimately failed in its efforts to achieve a sober and pure world, although its members significantly shaped the values of those countries in which it excercised strong influence.

As and urgently needed history of the first largescale worldwide women's organization and non-denominational evangelical institution, Woman's World / Woman's Empire will be a valuable resource to scholars in the fields of women's studies, religion, history, and alcohol and temperance studies.


More so than in the case of purely national histories, a comparative and international study demands the help of other scholars. I have been especially fortunate. The thanks issued in prefaces often seem ritualistic or clichéd, but this case truly underlines the value and the reality of cooperation in the international academic community. I beg forgiveness from those I have inadvertently failed to mention.

Pride of place goes to a number of Australian libraries, upholding the traditions of higher learning in these times of utilitarian education: Fisher Library at Sydney University; the unsurpassed collections on Australian and Pacific history at the David Scott Mitchell Library, Sydney; and the University of New South Wales Library. In relation to the latter institution, it has been my pleasure to be associated especially with Pam O'Brien and the staff of the Social Sciences and Humanities Library, who obtained so much material by purchase and on interlibrary loan.

Other libraries provided valuable and often indispensable collections. The University of Toronto Library assisted in the microfilming of important periodical sources on the Canadian WCTU. No historian of the international women's movement can afford to neglect the holdings of the Fawcett Library, City of London Polytechnic. Invaluable in my case were the papers of Josephine Butler. Material drawn from the Castle Howard Archives, Yorkshire, England, with the courteous and knowledgeable assistance of Archivist Eeyan Hartley, is used with kind permission of the Honorable Simon Howard. Martin Ridge and the Huntington Library made possible investigations into the history of the nineteenth-century women's movement on a sojourn there during my sabbatical leave in 1982. For New Zealand, thanks to Massey University for collecting the published WCTU sources in a single microfiche collection. Other valuable collections used were at the Schlesinger Library; Widener Library, Harvard University; the Bancroft Library, University of California; the University of California, Los Angeles; the New York Public Library; Boston Public Library; Smith College; the Swarthmore College Peace Collection; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; and the Lilly Library, Indiana University. No librarians, however, provided more generous assistance than those at the Sherrod Library, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee, where the literary remains of Jessie Ackermann are stored. Without the resources of the . . .

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