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Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)

The WCTU, already well established in the Dominion, came to the North-West Territories in the mid-1880s when unions (groups) were formed at Regina and other town sites along the new Canadian Pacific Railway route. Despite slow initial growth, by 1917 the WCTU was flourishing with over 1,600 members in seventy-three local unions organized into six districts. Members were usually middle-aged, middle-class, married, evangelical Protestant, English-speaking townswomen. Leaders were prominent, well-educated women, active in other women’s organizations, and likely married to men of substance in the community.

The WCTU sought to organize women for temperance work, protect the home from evil influences, work for national progress, conserve moral values, and build God’s kingdom on Earth. Members pledged themselves to total abstinence, to educate others (especially children) to follow suit, to pressure churches to use grape juice in place of wine, and to boycott stores selling liquor. They also expressed growing concern for women’s rights, worked to help the poor, provided night accommodations for weary travelers, and assisted people in trouble, notably young women. In 1910, for example, a Saskatoon Union established a Rescue Home for Unwed Mothers, which they operated until the Salvation Army acquired it in 1935.

Between 1910 and 1930, the WCTU was a prominent women’s organization in Saskatchewan, closely allied with progressive reform and the Social Gospel. It actively worked for objectives such as prohibition and women’s suffrage–-reforms obtained during World War I. However, by the 1920s the WCTU had become so single-mindedly attached to prohibition that its membership polarized. Many moderates left, while remaining members, along with new “dry” supporters, became increasingly conservative, moralistic, coercive and xenophobic in rhetoric, goals and activities. During the 1920s members feared the impact of Canada’s relaxed immigration laws, the failure of prohibition, and the “Roaring Twenties” culture that was perceived as morally depraved. After 1930, the WCTU in Saskatchewan continuously declined in membership and influence. By 1970 it had disappeared altogether.

Marcia McGovern

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Further Reading

McGovern, M.A. 1977. “The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Movement in Saskatchewan, 1886–1930: A Regional Perspective of the International White Ribbon Movement.” MA Thesis, University of Regina.
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