By Charles Cary Waddle.
Victor Hugo calls this era of ours "the woman's century." The remark is strictly apposite. From the close of the dark ages, each of the strides of civilization has been marked by some peculiar and original quality which distinguished it from its fellow. The tottering steps of culture in its infancy have grown stronger as the life blood of mental development has built up the solid bone and sinew of experience. This nineteenth century of ours differs from all of its predecessors. Society today is womanly, not effeminate. In this, her century, woman rules, a queen, not by the sufferance of a superior power to whom she must pay tribute, but as an equal sovereign, through the conquests she has gained. Her position cannot be questioned. There may yet be some few articles to be decided before the final treaty, but the fact of her victory is unassailable.
The representative woman of today is a Portia, not a Juliet nor a Katharine. She is wise, calm, broad minded, far seeing, sympathetic and generous. In this Christian Temperance Union of hers she has
gathered every element of progress from past centuries and molded them into one common whole. It contains the prowess of the fourteenth, the reforming spirit of the fifteenth, the intellectuality of the sixteenth, the resistance to tyranny of the seventeenth, the camaraderie of the eighteenth, the practical business sense of our own. It is her crowning achievement ; the brightest jewel in her diadem. It carries its aim in its title - a union or sisterhood of women trusting in themselves, not as a source but as a means, and associated for the purpose of regenerating society, chiefly by the suppression of the liquor traffic. The original work of temperance in the matter of using intoxicants has broadened out until it now comprises forty departments, each with a different line of work, but all subservient to the common end.
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is the direct lineal descendant and outgrowth of the Woman's crusade, that swift, brief-lived prairie fire of the West which swept clear the ground for the planting of the seed that was to follow. It was kindled in the little hamlet of Hillsboro, Ohio, on the evening of December 23, 1873; by the next day had reached the neighboring town of Washington Court House, and in less than three weeks had spread all over the state on the wings of a whirlwind of enthusiasm. For fifty days it raged, extending into seven neighboring states and obliterating thousands of barrooms and saloons. Then it died as quickly as it had been born. Its effects were only indirectly permanent. Where one drinking place had been blotted out ten sprang up to take its place. Worldly-wise men smiled knowingly and the world seemed to have slipped back into its old groove. It could not have been otherwise. The outburst was too sudden. There was too much of the "Deus vult" spirit, too little attention to methods and the ordinary, practical details of business. Men would never have embarked in such a venture. The old chivalric spirit of Godfrey de Bouillon has been ground out of us by the affairs of daily life. It clings to woman, with her silks and velvets.
The crusade was dead, irretrievably bankrupt in confidence, and the friends of the temperance cause cried in bewilderment: "What now?" In less than six months their answer came. A number of devoted, energetic women, gathered together for a summer outing in the woods about the shores of Lake Chautauqua, resolved that the idea embodied in the movement should not die. They held a meeting, appointed committees, decided upon a plan of organization and issued a call for a grand national convention to be held in the city of Cleveland on the 18th of November 1874. Pursuant to the invitation, delegates from almost every state in the Union gathered in a church in that city and knelt in devout and hopeful prayer for the success of their new enterprise. With wonderful precision for tyros, they followed out the ordinary rules of parliamentary usage. A temporary organization was effected, a constitution framed and a list of resolutions adopted, the gist of which was that they would labor for the success of temperance, "meeting argument with argument, misjudgment with patience, denunciation with kindness, and difficulties and dangers with prayer." They adopted as a name that of the Woman's National Christian Temperance Union, and elected as their permanent officers Mrs. Annie Wittenmeyer of Pennsylvania, for president, Miss Frances E. Willard of Illinois, for corresponding secretary, Mrs. W. A. Ingham of Ohio, for treasurer, and vice-presidents from twelve different states.
This congregation, progressive as it was, offered but one purpose to the women who composed it. That was the restriction of the drink habit by the only methods of which they then had knowledge. They were to use the old crusade plan of individual prayer and persuasion. But they introduced three novel features which contained the germ of gigantic strength. They invoked the power of the press by establishing a paper; that of consolidation by perfecting a plan of organization for every village and hamlet; and that of expansion by an appeal to the women of the globe. From the first has sprung their immense Chicago publishing house, turning out annually millions of pages of printed matter in books and leaflets, and issuing a paper, the Union Signal, which has a circulation reaching far up into the hundred thousands.
Their plan of organization is simple but substantial. Each local union, however small, is a miniature of the national, thus erecting a coordinate and tenacious structure.
From their appeal to womankind has grown the world's Woman's Christian Temperance Union, a society which comprises, besides our own order, the British Women's Temperance Association, the Canadian Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and organizations in the Sandwich islands, China, India, and Japan. Its first president was Mrs. Margaret Bright Lucas, a sister of John Bright, England's great commoner, and one who shared with him many of those sterling mental attributes which made him famous. Among her confreres in the order have been Mrs. Sasaki of Japan, the Pundita Ramabai of India, Mrs. Letitia Youmans of Ontario, and Lady Henry Somerset. The latter, once a leader of society in the British capital, has utterly forsworn the brilliant career opening before her, and is devoting her time, wealth and talents to the advancement of the cause.
Such, in epitome, are the achievements of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, on the three lines of work mapped out in the Cleveland convention of sixteen years ago. At Cincinnati the following year they bound themselves more firmly to the religious idea by instituting their "noonday prayer," and ever since, as the sun reaches the meridian each day, these women all over the world kneel and seek help and guidance in their appointed work. But the Newark convention of r876 marks the greatest advance in the early history of the society. For it was there that the subject of woman suffrage was first broached. In this assemblage of women, many of whom had regarded Mary Livermore's extreme views upon the subject with disfavor, Frances Willard was bold enough to declare that the despised cause should rightly be cooperated with theirs.
By this demand a distinct element of strength has been added to their cause, reminding one of the force contributed to the religion of Islam by the simple declaration: "We will fight for the faith." The sword of Mahomet cut in twain the empire of Rome and installed his followers in the gardens of Granada. Will the ballot in the hands of women accomplish for them the long coveted results of national and state prohibition? Miss Willard was elected president of the national union upon this very platform.
Thus there came into leadership one to whom, more than any other, is due whatever of good has been wrought by the society. Combining rare administrative ability with a tireless energy and a delicate charm of manner, Frances Willard is truly what Joseph Cook has called her, "the most widely known and best beloved of American women." Her life is that of a representative American. Born near Rochester, New York, her family removed during her infancy to Oberlin, Ohio, and afterwards farther west, to a farm on the prairies of Wisconsin. The vast, illimitable stretches of land which surrounded her home fed her imagination, and by the grandeur of their solitudes showed her the littleness of human life, the sublimity of the divine. Her New England mother, however, judiciously mingled the instruction of books with that of nature, and at eighteen she was ready to enter the Northwestern Female college at Evanston, Illinois. Leaving the institution as a graduate, she sought for and found employment as teacher in a district school, and by sheer force of merit urged her way into the foremost ranks of female instructors. She became president of the college in which she had once been a student, and finally dean of the "Woman's college" of the Northwestern university in the same town. Here her methods of governing the young ladies entrusted to her charge was disapproved by the general faculty as being too lax, and her resignation, when offered, was promptly accepted. On her withdrawal from her position she entered into temperance work, and was elected president of the Chicago Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
Since then her advance has been rapid. In every situation which has fallen to her, the ranks of the opposition to her ideas have grown less and less. So much so, in fact, that in the Atlanta convention last November there were only eight votes cast against her reelection in an assemblage of more than 400 delegates. Herein lies the key of Frances Willard's life work: she firmly believes that Eve is the mate, the equal companion, of Adam. Noting that much of the physical suffering, the cowed timidity, of women is due to the brutality of drunken husbands, fathers and brothers, she has earnestly espoused the cause of temperance. Other distresses, brought about by fashion, folly and hereditary instincts, she seeks to remedy through such branches of the order as "Dress Reform," "Social Purity," and educational movements.
Whether Miss Willard's efforts are well directed or not, is, and will probably for some time remain, a mooted question. That woman's labors can ever be placed upon the same footing as man's is a proposition that has been denied for centuries by philosophers and statesmen, and although present events would seem to furnish proof that they were wrong, yet the world is very prone to conservatism and society is no iconoclast.
Miss Willard has acted with wonderful policy for the furtherance of her plans. She has ever bided patiently her time in demanding progressive action from her order, but, when the season seemed ripe, she has boldly and unflinchingly stood her ground. In the great St. Louis convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1884, on the eve of an exciting national election, she hurled her defiance squarely in the teeth of partisan women, with her celebrated resolution: "As we now know which national party gives us the desired embodiment of principles for which our ten years' labor has been expended, we will continue to lend our influence to the national political organization which declares in its platform for national prohibition and home protection."
A long and brilliant argument followed its introduction, at the close of which the ayes and no's were called for the first time in the annals of the society, resulting in a vote of 195 in favor to 48 against. A split was inevitable. In Philadelphia, the following autumn, a protest was presented by Mrs. J. Ellen Foster of Iowa, signed by herself and twenty-six others. But the resolution was again sustained by a vote of 245 to 30. For three successive conventions Mrs. Foster demanded that this action should be rescinded, but, as the majority for it grew larger and larger, she finally decided to secede from the society of which she had so long been a member. She had been an accepted leader. Her marked ability and unflagging energy had won her a high place upon their roll of honor, but she could not endure defeat. Backed by a delegation from her own state, she again made her demand at the great New York convention of 1888. Her request was refused. At the succeeding convention she threw down her gage of defiance, and with a small body of adherents left the hall.
The elder organization proceeded unheeding on its way, and the only notice it has ever taken of the rebels was the simple request that they discontinue the, use of a name to which they had neither a moral nor a legal right.
The New York convention, just now referred to, was one of the most significant in the history of the society. It, was held in the Metropolitan Opera House, and the vast auditorium was packed daily with a curious and interested throng. The strength and importance of the society is aptly shown by this very circumstance. "As New York goes, so goes the Union," and when the metropolis received these women and welcomed them into its fashionable homes it was an undeniable evidence of the tenacity with which they have attached theme selves to the hearts of the people.
Last fall the Woman's Christian Temperance Union held its national assemblage in Atlanta, the "Gate City of the South." There were present 406 accredited delegates from all over the country, and presidents of states' unions from thirty-nine states and two territories. Miss Willard's annual address emphasized the need of powerful endeavor in the departments of evangelistic and social purity labor. Reports and resumes of the year's work were read by the secretary, treasurer and the superintendents of the different departments.
Notably encouraging was the report of the Young Woman's Christian Temperance Union, by the National Superintendent, Mrs. Barnes. This branch of the order is, in reality, a reserve corps where girls and young women are trained to take the places, in the older body, of those who must, perforce, lay them down. And yet it has a special and important work of its own. It aims, by the influence of its members, to make total abstinence a fashionable social custom, and thus build up a higher standard of personal habits; to teach young women the scientific and ethical reasons [or abstinence and prohibition; and to provide a society to which may be entrusted such provinces as the supervision of children's work, flower missions and Sunday school instruction. Its methods are by transforming such unions into social clubs in which young men may become honorary members, by private and public entertainments and other efforts tending in the same direction.
The mother order works upon broader lines, its endeavors being comprised under the general heads of preventive, educational, evangelistic, social and legal. By means of these divisions of labor it is in constant contact with an immense variety of people. Its members stand in prisons and poorhouses and exhort the unfortunates to repentance and to new efforts. They invade the halls of Congress and demand a broader legislation. They go to the nurseries and schoolrooms and enlist the children in their cause. They search out the inebriates of every station and urge them to reform. They establish reformatories and homes for the victims of drink, besides founding hospitals. They seek to purify the atmosphere of fairs, encampments, celebrations and expositions by banishing alcoholic liquors and providing in their stead refreshments of a more wholesome nature. They have permeated public sentiment by advances upon the press, by trained lecturers and by conventions and oratorical contests. They have entered the brothel and reclaimed its inmates from their shame and degradation. They have dispatched missionaries all over the globe and instituted similar societies in almost every civilized country. '"For God, for home, for native land" is the simple doctrine of their faith and by such fruits of it as these are they known; by them has the Hillsboro Praying Band grown to a mighty organization comprising 10,000 local unions and a membership of a quarter of a million, with an equal number of adherents and honoraries; a society which owns a large amount of valuable real estate, which operates a flourishing publishing house and which is erecting in the very heart of Chicago a national temple costing $1,000,000.
This is, in brief, the history of one of the greatest reform efforts of modern times. Its magnitude alone must command respect. The cry of "fanatic" is drowned in the onward tramp of its victorious legions. However one may disapprove, one is obliged to admire. It is another link to the chain along which humanity is feeling its way to a purer and better life; another act. in the drama of freedom whose prologue was the crusade.
There are dangers in the path of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union which will require the greatest subtlety to surmount. Victory may engender conceit. The cause may fail through internal strife, or may die from a want of zeal. But, to all appearances, it is firmly grounded upon that eternal sequence of events whose source lies beyond the ken of our philosophy. For,
I doubt not through the ages one unceasing purpose runs;
And the thoughts of 1neu are widened with the
process of the suns.
As we linger a moment on this thought, our minds instinctively turn toward the future, and seek to discern what the evolution of woman will eventually bring forth. Woman has great possibilities, she has great misfortunes, she has great faults. She may be a Medusa or an Athene, an Aphrodite or a Ceres. The victim of constancy, she is the slave of caprice. Swayed by the lightest breath of passion, she yet can die for a principle.
Originally published in Cosmopolitan Magazine. July 1891.