Friday, November 22, 2002
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Carlisle
On August 17, 1887, a group of Carlisle women met at Union Hall and voted to form a Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), auxiliary to the WCTU of Massachusetts. Mrs. I.H. Chamberlin was elected president, Mrs. E.J. Carr and Miss M.A. Bailey were vice-presidents. Other members included Mrs. Sabra Barrett, Mrs. T.A. Green, and Mrs. J.E. Bull. Mrs. D.L. Chamberlin was the first recording secretary, but in its fifteen-year history several women filled the office. Through their efforts we have a record of the history of the organization.
As with other clubs and organizations of the time, this one functioned in a prescribed manner. A constitution and bylaws were adopted; members volunteered to be superintendents of departments of work; there was a motto, a badge, and a pledge. The pledge reads as follows: "I hereby solemnly promise, God helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented, and malt liquors, including Wine, Beer, and Cider, as a beverage, and to employ all proper means to discourage the use of and traffic in the same."
What was the WCTU? Growing out of a woman's crusade in Ohio in the 1870s that opposed saloons and the sale of liquor, the organization quickly spread to other parts of the country. Despite the principles expressed in its pledge and the use of the word "temperance," preventing the sale and use of alcoholic beverages was only a part of the mission of the organization. By the late 19
Carlisle's Union met bi-weekly or monthly from 1887 to 1901, with varying numbers of participants. Men could become honorary members, and there were a few in attendance over the years, but they were not allowed to vote. Meetings began with prayer and a scripture reading and might include discussions, readings, or work. Discussions varied from the simplest: should cider be used in cooking to the major issues of the day like prison reform and the progress of temperance legislation in Washington. Papers were written and read for the edification of other members. Subjects included: "Temperance Education in the Home" and "Our Duties to Our Husbands."
Scrapbooks and scrapcards were made and sent to a children's hospital and the Orphan's Home in Worcester. A picture was donated to the Concord Reformatory and items made for the Helping Hand Fair in Boston. Over the life of the organization hundreds of bouquets were made and sent to the Flower Mission (the flowers were given to hospital patients). Morality and humanitarian efforts combined when barrels were packed with used clothes, papers, and good literature. The Seaman's Bethel in Boston was among the recipients of such contributions.
Several Temperance Concerts were planned and at least one was carried out (1898). There were picnics and dinners for children, in which youngsters were fed temperance education along with their cake and ice cream. On one occasion they listened to Mrs. Rolfe of Concord's WCTU deliver her lecture, "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." (Mrs. Rolfe was instrumental in the creation of Carlisle's WCTU).
Though a perusal of the records shows the organization's activities to be largely humanitarian, one of the undercurrents of WCTU was woman suffrage. Some chapters were working as much for suffrage as for temperance. Meetings provided a forum in which women could gather and discuss current issues, suffrage being among them.
In this way, the WCTU functioned as a proto-feminist organization, the first that allowed large numbers of women a voice in the political process. Though there are only passing references to suffrage in the records of Carlisle's WCTU, it was certainly on the minds of women at the time. The organization also helped to promote women's independence by electing and sending representatives to regional WCTU conventions. Carlisle representatives went to conventions in Woburn, Fitchburg, and Lakeview (Tewksbury). At a time when most women were tied to their homes, this was an opportunity to expand their horizons as well as providing a larger forum in which to debate the issues of the day.
Overall, it is the abundance of human kindness that is evident in the records of this group. When a member died, as several did over the course of its existence, the next meeting became a memorial service in which that woman was remembered and honored. Setting aside bylaws, mottos, and morality, we find a group of women who, under the auspices of a temperance union, used their time to bring comfort to those in need while finding a mechanism by which to bring themselves into the political process and to share in the work and ideas of the world beyond their kitchens.
This article was written in conjunction with my work for the Carlisle Historical Society. The record book containing the minutes of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Carlisle is part of the collection that I have been processing and is the source for the information used in this article. So, instead of writing as the Gleason Library reference librarian, this time it is through my work with the Historical Society.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito