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RG1072.AM:  Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (Nebraska)

Records:  1890-1957

Nebraska:  Temperance organization

Size:  0.5 cu.ft.; 1 box


By the middle of the 19th century, temperance leaders saw the need to concentrate on de-legalizing saloons, the social institution, rather than trying to cure the individual drinker. The church started the major advance of this movement. In 1873, Hillsboro, Ohio, women gathered to form the “Modern Crusade” made up of ladies in the community attempting to “pray the saloons out of business.” This idea spread throughout the country and in 1874 the Ladies Temperance Society (LTS) was formed in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The goal of this organization was “to promote the moral influence in our city and to further the cause of temperance.” The LTS grew rapidly to include some of the most highly respected women of the community; such as Mrs. Butler, wife of the ex-governor, Mrs. H.W. Hardy, Mrs. A.C. Rickets, and Mrs. A.T. Davis. This group was distinctly religious, though interdenominational and planned to close saloons by prayer and personal appeal. When the anti-temperance oriented Lincoln City Council of 1874 passed an ordinance outlawing prayer and singing groups outside saloons, the ladies changed their tactics to petitions and teaching children about ill effects of alcohol.

A national convention of women’s temperance movements was held in Chautauqua, New York in 1874, this was the origin of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The Lincoln Chapter of the WCTU was organized in 1875, the first city president was Mrs. Metcalf. The first state president was Mrs. Anson Brown. Three areas of work were stressed by the Nebraska WCTU: (1) creation of public sentiment against liquor traffic; (2) temperance legislation; and 3) teaching children the effects of alcohol upon individuals and society.

Although temperance was the WCTU’s main concern, they also studied the areas of public health, moral sanitation, social purity, women’s interests, humane work, dependents and delinquents, and the licensed saloon and how a license is obtained. In 1879 and 1885 petitions by the WCTU to the Nebraska legislature asked for submission of a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution. Both petitions failed narrowly, the first by two votes and the second by postponement.

In 1915 the Anti-Saloon League (ASL), a politically active temperance organization formed in 1898, and the WCTU met in Lincoln to organize a prohibition campaign in the state. The WCTU campaigned vigorously for a “Dry Nebraska”; spreading petitions, planning work in every county and holding public meetings. In March of 1916, the Nebraska WCTU held a mid-continent campaign for workers all over the nation. In May of 1916, a petition was filed for statewide prohibition; over 300 members of the WCTU and ASL met at the capital to support the petition.

In 1917, the National Prohibition Act was passed. The Nebraska legislature of 1917 made full provisions for enforcement of the new amendment. This success was largely the result of determined and persistent leaders throughout the country of such organizations as the WCTU.


This collection consists of one box of manuscript material arranged in six series: (1) Correspondence, 1898-1957; (2) Minutes, 1939-1946; (3) Printed Matter, 1886-1951; (4) Manuscripts, 1892; (5) Newspaper Clippings, 1889-1940; and (6) Miscellany. This collection relates to the participation of WCTU members in community projects and rallies and their political campaigns for nominees on the prohibition ticket. Of particular interest is a detailed history of the organization edited by Ada Bittenbender.


Series 1 – Correspondence, 1898-1957

Box 1


  1. Correspondence, 1898, 1915

  2. Correspondence, 1945-1957 (most relating to sale of headquarters building)

Series 2 – Minutes, 1939-1946

  1. Minutes, “Aim of Federation of Prohibition Forces,” n.d.

  2. Ledger of minutes, Headquarters Board, Nebraska WCTU, 1939-1946

Series 3 – Printed Matter, 1886-1951

  1. Convention programs, 1886-1951

  2. Pamphlets, including “Prohibition Party Attitude,” “What Prohibition Prohibits,” Handbook, etc.

  3. Political flyers and broadsides (see also oversize)

  4. Addresses: 1890 President WCTU National Address, Willard; 1891 Nebraska WCTU Annual Convention, Ripley; Speech read at NSHS annual meeting, 1923

  5. Yearbook, 1930-1931

Series 4 – Manuscripts, 1890-1892

  1. History of WCTU in Nebraska, 1892, Bittenbender

    Correction Notes for WCTU history

Series 5 – Newspaper Clippings, 1889-1940

  1. 1889-1899

  2. 1900-1909

  3. 1910-1919

  4. 1920-1939, n.d.

Series 6 – Miscellany

  1. Documents regarding sale of headquarters building

  2. Nonalcoholic beverage recipes; Membership registry 1957-1958 notes

  3. National Convention, 1969, 1914


Subject headings:

Prohibition — Nebraska

Temperance — Societies, etc. — Nebraska

Women social reformers — Nebraska

Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (Nebraska)


Revised TMM        04-30-2007