by Paul R. Spitzzeri
One of the biggest factors in drive that led to Prohibition, through the passage of the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, in 1919 was the intensive work done by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). A couple of posts on this blog have covered the work of the WCTU in greater Los Angeles, including the regional convention in 1919, and this one looks at the confab held by the organization at San Bernardino from 13-16 May 1913.
This was three decades since the organization of the regional chapter at Los Angeles in September 1883 and meetings were held in the early fall for the first decade, before moving to May or June, including the 1892 gathering at San Bernardino. Eva C. Wheeler, who was the state vice-president of the Union in 1918-1919, was the owner of this copy of the proceedings, which included a “Declaration of Principles” early in the publication.
These professed the religious underpinnings that guided the organization, along with “one standard of purity for both men and women.” It was also affirmed “we believe in a living wage; in an eight-hour day; in courts of conciliation and arbitration; in justice as opposed to greed of gain; in ‘peace on earth and good will to men.” Key to the declaration was a pledge “of a common danger and common hope to make common cause” through “reasonable and helpful precepts into the practice and every-day life” and this was:
I hereby solemnly promise, Gold helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented and malt liquors, including wine, beer and cider and to employ all proper means to discourage the use of and traffic in the same.
To bring this about, the organization sought “to educate the young; to form a better public sentiment; to reform, as far as possible, by religious, ethical and scientific means, the drinking classes” and “the transforming power of God’s Grace” to bring about “pure and wholesome living.” Lastly, it was asserted that the principles, based on Christian gospel teachings, “may be worked out into the customs of society and the laws of the land.” The state’s motto was “The battle is not yours but God’s” while a knot of white ribbon was the badge and the prayer hour was high noon.
The president of the organization was Lucy Shackleford Blanchard (1848-1915), a native of Virginia, who came to Los Angeles at age 30 and, in 1884, married James H. Blanchard, who hailed from Michigan and, after receiving his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1872, promptly came to Los Angeles. Both were devout Methodists, with the Methodist Episcopal Church closely aligned with the WCTU and Lucy was head of the state Union, based at the Temperance Temple (see the first link above), for nearly a quarter century.
In her annual address at the confab, Blanchard noted that the group “will continue to assemble until this government-protected, legalized, home-destroying liquor traffic is abolished, [and] annihilated.” She employed martial rhetoric in asserting that the women in the Union enlisted and noted “there are no furloughs; there is no discharge in this war. It is war, war, war, no compromise with this awful business.” The president lamented those who had passed away in the fight and continued that “another year has passed into history, but we are one year nearer our glorious triumph over the enemy of humanity” and proclaimed:
Victory! Yes, victory! We have a right to shout victory, for w can see our triumph over this great evil by faith from this mountain of hope, and claim it in the name of the great God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Captain of the Lord’s host.
So we are lined up today in solid array against the liquor traffic, under the banner of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
Under the heading of “The Old Things,” the chief executive averred that “there is scarcely any room for schisms and disagreements” as there was a broad platform on which the Union was based. Consequently, “peace and harmony prevail throughout our ranks, and we are marching on with banners flying, keeping the middle of the King’s highway.” With this unity, she added, “nothing less than the utter annihilation of the liquor traffic in state and nation will satisfy us.”
She celebrated “the old time religion of salvation from sin” while denigrating New Thought and other modern movements, placing emphasis on “our fight for the American home” and the teachings of the Bible and its “eternal verities.” The WCTU was built on an unshakable foundation and “the white ribbon represents a great cause and the greatest organization of men in the world” so “we should be proud of our little white badge and that we are white ribboners.”
A new system of membership cards was adopted during the past year to try and increase the ranks because each member was asked to bring in another during the year. Blanchard stated that this idea worked because 630 new members were admitted and sixty current members brought in about three-quarters of those. Los Angeles County brought in nearly 250 of the total, but, of course, “that county had the most workers and the greatest mass of population to work upon.”
Numbers aside, the president warned that “the great problem is how to interest the greatest number of our members in active work” and getting them to go to meetings was considered the best way to see more activity. Blanchard praised the chapters at Anaheim and Upland for having “surpassed all others and demonstrated that what they have done” others could do. Public meetings constituted a section of her address and these, along with conferences, medal contests and press contacts were promoted as “the means by which we hope to succeed.”
It was “in the public meeting [that] the fires of enthusiasm are kindled, [and] our principles burned into the hearts of the people and our workers encouraged and revived, and prohibition sentiment aroused.” Talent was one thing, but so was opportunity, and Blanchard noted that summer months were challenging as “meetings in the heated season are poorly attended,” yet fall was a problem because of farmers busy in harvesting crops and, in winter, “who wants to go out in the wet?” while spring involved planting of crops.
Not only this, but churches were busy, lodges had their meetings and “the clubs have their programs so that when we advertise our meetings we find that many do not attend by reason of previous engagements.” Public meetings were such that their success “depends very largely upon advertising and advertising is a science,” so that the Union’s problem was that “we often fail because we do not know how to draw a crowd.” Still, she claimed “unions have been revived, the workers encouraged, new members secured and an interest awakened in the minds and hearts of the people.”
The California state paper was The White Ribbon and the president hailed the efforts of Editor Mary Coman and Business Manager Elsie Chambers “for their indefatigable efforts” with it. She asked members to remember them “when this little messenger, carrying the news of our work, the gospel of prohibition, [and] words of cheer and encouragement” reached them. Coman’s work, she averred, was like that of a speaker talking to empty seats and Blanchard called for readers to support it as “it is one of the strong arms of our work,” while imploring “do not forget your white ribbon sisters who through its means are brought closer together in sympathy and effort in promoting our cause.”
The local unions were then addressed and Blanchard noted that “what our organization is to the prohibition movement depends upon the individual unions, and the source of the life and force of these unions springs from the members.” The individual had a duty to help the state and national unions “in moulding the character of our institutions and our civilization and “because you attend it meetings, induce others to attend, give your talents in its exercises and otherwise manifest your interest,” the entire structure of the WCTU was strengthened. Returning to the local leading chapters, she recorded that Anaheim’s union added 100 new members, while Upland brought in 83 during the past year, and this best showed the “spirit of harmony and kindly feeling” as well as “the cords of love and common interest and enthusiasm [that] bind us together.”
With respect to “Medal Contests,” the chief executive said that these “have a greater influence in our work than many comprehend” as “they are another branch of service in our economy,” even if some members thought of them as nothing more than a way to entertain.” While agreeing that this was so, Blanchard also identified them as “a power educational force; molding and influencing the participants” through recitations and writing that showed they were “aroused, awakened and confirmed in the faith—quickened in thought and action.”
Those in attendance, she went on, “come to hear the contestants, their friends and acquaintances, listen to the prohibition truths without prejudice, and unconsciously are influenced to right thinking.” This meant, then, that the contests were vital as “a high order of prohibition propaganda” and, as such, they “should be encouraged by every Union.”
Then there were “the children, the children, Oh, the children” because “they are the hope of our cause” and Blanchard repeated a comment that, if children were focused upon from the origins of the WCTU, “we might have grown a victory before this time.” The Loyal Temperance Legion, of which there were twenty-five with 900 members, was akin to a Sunday School for a church and, while “the work of reclaiming the fallen, reforming the drunkard and converting the license voter to prohibition” were crucial, “training up the children in the way they should go and stamping the impress of our ideas upon their characters” was more important, as they would be the ones “to fight the liquor traffic.”
The introduction of Scientific Temperance Instruction was an important step, but the president asserted that the program fell short in that it needed “a burning enthusiasm to help humanity upward through the abolition of the drink traffic” though prohibition songs and other means of teaching to “swear them to eternal hatred against the liquor traffic.” Young people who were to be the captains and generals in that war had to have “holy zeal and overmastering desire” for “a new crusade” and with this, Blanchard intoned, “train the children and win a victory!” Notably, she warned that if this was no accomplished “God will raise up some other organization . . . and take our crown from us.”
The Young People’s Branch was another important project because elderly members (Blanchard died within a couple of years, for example) had to make way “and let younger women take our places.” This “preparatory school” was an analog to the Epworth League of the Methodist Church and like organizations, including the Christian Endeavor societies and Young People’s Union, the latter a Baptist institution, and Blanchard noted that any church that lacked such a group would be seen as antiquated and likely to lose young members. There were thirteen YPBs in the region, but there should be far more, the president continued, as links between the Loyal Temperance Legions and the Unions and she alleged there were plenty of young adults “ready for the fray, but do not see how to engage in the conflict” of temperance reform.
Blanchard reported that the State Executive Committee recently discussed the topic prohibition throughout California and proposed county meetings with churches, missionary societies, young people’s groups, clubs, lodges and others “to consider the matter of inaugurating a campaign . . . and elect delegates to a State convention” for that purpose. That confab would “determine the feasibility of entering upon a campaign . . . effect a permanent organization, and choose campaign committees.”
The northern Union counterpart was in favor, so “the time is ripe for such a movement” because “there is a strong prohibition sentiment existing throughout the State” and, should a concerted effort be made under one umbrella organization, “the liquor traffic can be overthrown.” Notably, however, Blanchard proclaimed that “if we wait till foreign emigration fills our State with people opposed to our sentiments and customs we will fail, but if we act now we will succeed.” This sounds somewhat akin to the “[great] replacement theory” now very much in the news because of the horrific racist shootings in Buffalo and one wonders if her Southern origins came to the fore here.
The president then moved to “Equal Suffrage” noting that, since California gave women the right to vote in 1911, Oregon and Arizona followed suit and Nevada would soon, so that there would be “a great empire which will have a powerful influence upon other States” and be one in which “the new civilization of the West will sweep over the Rockies and the conservatism of the East will give away [sic] and justice and right will prevail.”
Achieving the vote, however, was not enough as Blanchard implored, “let the women’s vote be a conscience vote, an intelligent vote, a vote that represents thought, free from prejudice, and cast to uplift society.” The achievements of suffrage reflected well on the WCTU because “for over thirty years we have worked for it” and she noted that, when asked what the organization had done, “point to Woman’s Suffrage and say ‘That is our work.'”
Addressing “The White Ribbon Badge,” the chief executive reiterated that members of the Union should be proud of its accomplishments and the badge “represents our principles” so that “every woman who wears this badge is recognized at once as one who stands uncompromisingly for righteousness and purity, for prohibition and woman’s suffrage, and for the home.”
Moreover, she went on, the “liquor men” imitated the badge by hiring women to wear a similar one and, at a recent election, hand out anti-prohibition literature, so that, “by that means they deceived thousands of voters to vote for the saloons.” Blanchard implored members to continue to adorn themselves with the white ribbon and “wear it wherever you go, in the house, on the street, at church, at social functions—and wear it so people can see it.” Just as men wore pins and badges for their fraternal orders and secret societies, women should do so with the white ribbon just as “what the flag is to our country.”
Wrapping up her remarks, Blanchard discussed “Our Future Endeavors” by noting the imminent completion of the Panama Canal and the effects on immigration as “newcomers from the Eastern States will arrive in greater numbers than ever before” so that “the plains and valleys will be crowded with a dense population . . . new town and cities will spring up, and a new civilization will develop here.” While she warned against that foreign influx that would change the dominant society, she here said “a new civilization will develop here, the last and greatest effort of a Christian people to govern themselves, and establish free institutions.”
The WCTU and its ideals were crucial for this movement, with its principles, including temperance and prohibition, “the only lasting, permanent foundations of society and civilization, and it is for us to stamp the impress of our principles and ideas upon our institutions.” Declaring that “now is the time to work, in the living present,” Blanchard intoned that prohibiting liquor means that there would be “slumless cities and prosperous, happy people,” while having the Bible in schools would “teach the boys and girls the great principles of righteousness.”
Citing Nathan Hale and his famous declaration, which has been questioned, about having more than one life to give to his country, Blanchard concluded by invoking the Revolutionary War spirit the defeated the tyranny from the British and claimed “it is that kind of courage and self-sacrifice that will at last win our victory over the liquor traffic.” Having covered her address in such detail, we’ll return tomorrow with part two and a further look at the yearbook.