Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric

By Carol Mattingly | Go to book overview

4
Dissension and Division: Racial Tension and the WCTU

She is simply endeavoring to do what is impossible--please the anti-lynch people and not displease the south.

-- " Frances A Temporizer," The Cleveland Gazette

IN MANY WAYS, the women of the WCTU reflected the times and culture of which they were a part. Divisions apparent within the nation often surfaced among members. For example, Frances Willard made numerous overtures to Catholics despite the fact that the WCTU membership was almost completely comprised of Christian evangelists. She often met with opposition from members who represented a typical fear of "papists." Debates over whether and how to include immigrant populations also surfaced. In both cases, rhetoric differed according to where members lived. For example, in Minnesota, although there were many efforts to solicit membership among immigrants, members often spoke negatively of Germans because of their control over the growing brewing industry in that area; in Boston, members' disdain was directed primarily at Irish Catholics. Attitudes toward African Americans also reflected the regional and cultural background of members, but racial relations within the union, unlike other divisions, became a subject for national and international debate.

Frances Willard's biographers and others who have written accounts of the WCTU have ignored or glossed over many differences within the WCTU, including racial tensions aired publicly by the most vocal African American woman activist in the 1890s, Ida B. Wells. One biographer, Mary Earhart, does mention the Willard/ Wells conflict; but Earhart does not seem to understand the seriousness of the charges made by Wells, and

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