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

By Ian Tyrrell | Go to book overview

9
A Fatal Mistake?

The Contest for Social Purity

In October of 1897, two former missionaries published a sensational document addressed to the membership of the World's and American WCTUs. The authors were Elizabeth Wheeler Andrew and Dr. Katharine Bushnell, both personal friends of Willard, and among the most controversial and able organizers the World's WCTU ever employed. "We believe," the two earnest Christian campaigners announced at the outset of their A Fatal Mistake, "that a crisis has come in the history of the W.C.T.U., and that God is weighing the organization in the balance." Temperance women faced "a great conflict of moral principles," in a battle "being waged the world over." "God" was "waiting to see" what the "foremost organization of women in the world are willing to do in behalf of their own sex." Though the WCTU was ostensibly a temperance organization, the "fatal mistake" was, for Bushnell, Andrew, and many who rallied to their cause, not temperance nor women's suffrage nor peace. The issue that threatened to split the World's and American WCTUs involved the allegation that none other than the vice-president of the World's WCTU had advocated licensed prostitution. Moreover, the WCTU had refused to condemn her. Thereby the WCTU was said to have brought upon itself the moral shame that only the issue of social purity could evoke among Victorian women.1

A strong case can be made on the basis of this and other evidence that, despite the implication inherent in the name that the WCTU was primarily a temperance society, in practice no campaign assumed more importance than that of social purity. This was especially true in international perspective. The fate of "fallen women" far away in India and the ramifications of regulationist practices there and in Europe deeply stirred WCTU supporters in several countries in the 1890s, and the white slavery scare of the first decade of the twentieth century also included an unmistakable emphasis on the problem of foreign contagion.

In actuality, the continuity of concern with the purity issue is misleading

-191-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • Abbreviations xv
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Origins of Temperance Internationalism 11
  • 3 - The World's Wctu 35
  • 4 - Bands of Ribbon White Around the World 62
  • 5 - In Dark Lands 81
  • 6 - Sisters, Mothers, and Brother-Hearted Men 114
  • 7 - Alcohol and Empire 146
  • 8 - Peace as A Way of Life 170
  • 9 - A Fatal Mistake? 191
  • 10 - Women, Suffrage, and Equality 221
  • 11 - Women and Equality 242
  • 12 - Prohibition and the Perils of Cultural Adaptation 255
  • Epilogue - Divergent Meanings of the World's Wctu 285
  • Appendix 291
  • Notes 295
  • Index 365
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