Click to magnify
IWA. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records.

A temperance movement advocating the reduced use or banning of alcoholic beverages began in the early 1800s. Temperance overlapped and intertwined with suffrage throughout its history, but especially in the period from 1870 to 1890.

In the nineteenth century, alcoholism was rampant and there were few social programs designed to help. Women and children were vulnerable to abuse by drunk husbands or fathers. Without a political voice, women and children lacked recourse.

In 1874, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in Ohio. By the 1880s, it was the largest women’s organization in the United States. According to an 1884 report, an estimated 5,000 Iowa women had joined.

In her 1883 address to the Iowa WCTU, corresponding secretary Lizzie D. Carhart wrote that women had previously been reluctant to talk about getting the vote, but they began to see it as “a weapon for the protection of their homes.”

Click to magnify
IWA. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records.

Click to magnify
IWA. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records.

The WCTU had a "do everything" policy, which meant it was a base for many reform causes besides temperance. Since it drew its membership from women’s clubs and organizations already in place in Protestant churches, the WCTU was considered a respectable avenue for reform.