The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874, was one of the most influential women’s movements at the turn of the 20th century. Born out of temperance crusades in Ohio, the WCTU was founded to combat the effects of alcohol abuse on women and children, but eventually added other social reforms and political activism to its mandate.
As the WCTU expanded its role beyond closing down saloons and calling for an end to liquor sales, the cause for woman’s suffrage was high on its list of priorities. Despite common interest in securing the vote for women, there was a marked difference in tone between the WCTU and the suffrage movement. The WCTU focused on securing women’s participation in the political process as the protectors of the home, rather than the suffragists’ more radical idea of gender equality, which helped legitimize the movement.
By the late 1800s, the WCTU’s membership was nearly 150,000 strong and included auxiliary groups at the national, state, city, and even county levels. Like their sisters throughout the country, women in Nebraska rallied around temperance and suffrage issues, defiantly stating, “As wives, mothers, and citizens we know our rights and will defend them—peaceably if we can, with severe measures if we must.” The Nebraska branch of the WCTU sent this petition urging passage of a proposed constitutional amendment that “prohibited disenfranchisement on the basis of sex” to the House in 1886. The amendment failed, and it would take more than three decades for women to secure the right to vote, when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.