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WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION

Fourteen years after the national Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was established in 1874, the organization reached Indian Territory (I.T.). Although federal law prohibited the distribution of alcohol in I.T., the statute was not adequately enforced, and in 1888 a local WCTU chapter or "union" was organized at Muskogee. Others followed in Tahlequah, Atoka, Vinita, Wagoner, Claremore, Pryor Creek, and Poteau. After a territory-wide convention L. Jane Staples became the first territorial WCTU president. By 1900 more than twenty-one unions operated, and in 1903 they began publishing Our Helper, an official newsletter.

In 1890 the first chapters in Oklahoma Territory (O.T.) opened at Oklahoma City and Guthrie. Others followed in El Reno, Edmond, Kingfisher and Norman, creating the O.T. WCTU with Margerette Olive Rhodes as its first president. Temperance meetings, held at a member's home or a church, included reading papers on social purity and sobriety, singing hymns such as the national song, "Give to the Winds Thy Fears," and talks by national temperance speakers. By 1900 the O.T. union became more politically involved, opposing the alcohol dispensary system and supporting laws against prizefighting, gambling, and cigarette smoking. During the 1906 Constitutional Convention the "white-ribboners" campaigned for prohibition, sending petition letters to institutions across the Twin Territories. The WCTU's influence largely contributed to Oklahoma's becoming the only state admitted with prohibition in its constitution.

Under the leadership of the last I.T. WCTU president, Lilah D. Lindsey, and the last O.T. WCTU president, Abbie B. Hillerman, the unions merged on September 18, 1908, creating the Greater Oklahoma State Woman's Christian Temperance Union. The delegates elected Cora D. Hammett as their first president. The Oklahoma Messenger, begun in 1904 by the O.T. WCTU, remained the official newsletter, and the union adopted the motto "Only the Golden Rule of Christ can bring the Golden Age of Man."

The state WCTU campaigned in 1910 against resubmission of the prohibition question. Motivated by the watchwords "Agitate, Educate, Organize," the union sent out twenty-five thousand copies of the proposed constitutional amendment, noting its defects. Campaigning with the slogan "Vote No on the Amendment" and the song "Keep Oklahoma Dry," prohibition won. After 1907 the state WCTU worked to promote measures that created more stringent liquor laws and to promote ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although Oklahomans repealed prohibition in 1959, by 2000 the WCTU still functioned with unions operating in Oklahoma and throughout the world.

SEE ALSO: PROHIBITION, RELIGION.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Born Sober: Prohibition in Oklahoma, 1907-1959 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971). Elizabeth Putnam Gordon, Women Torch-Bearers: The Story of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (Evanston, Ill.: National Woman's Christian Temperance Union Publishing House, 1924). Abbie B. Hillerman, History of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory, and State of Oklahoma: 1888-1925 (Sapulpa, Okla.: Jennings Printing and Stationary Co., 1925). "Woman's Christian Temperance Union," Vertical File, Library Resources Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Tally D. Fugate

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