Archival Adventures in Small Repositories
Train the Young, Save the Inebriate, and Promote Abstinence: Yardley WCTU
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Yardley (Bucks County, Pa.), an auxiliary of the WCTU of Pennsylvania, was founded in 1885. The group's stated objective, as outlined in its first minute book, was to "educate public sentiment up to the standard of total abstinence, train the young, save the inebriate, and secure the legal prohibition and complete banishment of the liquor traffic."
Yardley WCTU was one of numerous local chapters forming all across the country during the late 19th century as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union quickly became the largest woman's organization in the United States (and eventually the world as it spread internationally).
The oldest continuous voluntary, non-sectarian woman's organization, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union was founded in 1874. It grew out of the "Woman's Crusade" of the winter of 1873-1874 during which time women, who were concerned about the destructive power of alcohol and the problems it was causing their families and society, engaged in non-violent protests.
Influenced by the Greek philosopher Xenophon, the WCTU's definition of temperance became "moderation in all things healthful and total abstinence from all things harmful." In order to secure "protection of the home," the WCTU, through education and example, worked to obtain pledges of total abstinence from alcohol, and later also tobacco and other drugs.
According to the organization, as stated in its official history, "the crusade against alcohol was a protest by women, in part, of their lack of civil rights," particularly the right to vote. "In most states women could not have control of their property or custody of their children in case of divorce. There were no legal protections for women and children, prosecutions for rape were rare, and the state-regulated "age of consent" was as low as seven."
By the 1920s, the WCTU of Yardley had expanded to include the Yardley Young People's Branch of WCTU, which was founded to promote good citizenship, Christianity, and abstinence from alcohol and drugs amongst the town's youth.
The branch was organized into several departments, and its leaders arranged various lectures, social events, and volunteer activities for members. The group's objectives and activities are documented in a scrapbook/sketchbook from 1927-1928 that includes artwork, clippings, as well as photographs of the organization's superintendents (department chairs).
Heads of the Social Department
This engaging scrapbook can be found at the Yardley Historical Association (YHA), which also has the first three minute books of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Yardley, 1885-1910; a Bucks County WCTU minute book, 1931-1936; and the Young Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Yardley constitution, bylaws and members (no date).
Besides materials relating to the WCTU, the YHA also has collections that document the Yardley Library Company (est. 1845), the Yardley Civic Club (est. 1915), Yardley Borough (inc. 1895), as well as other collections relating to various Yardley individuals, families, businesses, organizations, and events. Make an appointment to visit the Historical Association to learn more about this historic town!
Woman's Christian Temperance Union. "Early History." Accessed July 23, 2013. http://www.wctu.org/earlyhistory.html
About the Author
Unless otherwise noted, all images in this blog post are property of the organization profiled, not the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. To reproduce any image or obtain a higher quality version, please contact the organization directly.