HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Gender & Orientation » History of Feminism (Group) » feminism, temperance and ...

Mon Apr 16, 2012, 12:43 PM


feminism, temperance and prostitution

This had been my first thought for a discussion here when the group was proposed.

Those "moral crusades" women are apparently so fond of ...


An early figure in those crusades in the US: Frances Willard, who died in 1898.

Each year, as president of the WCTU, Willard published an address. In this long paper she proposed a plan of work and ideas for the betterment of society. Her messages always went beyond the issue of alcohol. During the year, she spoke and traveled and used her personal influence to accomplish the wide range of items on her agenda. At first, Willard campaigned for women's suffrage in a muted vocabulary, framing the issue in terms of giving women the ability to vote for "home protection." In this way, she gradually brought the WCTU along with her.

Her life as president of the WCTU was one of constant travel in the United States and Europe. Her style was winsome, evangelical, inspiring, and conciliatory. One biographer makes frequent mention of her ability to compromise and to slowly win her constituency over to her opinion. As she traveled around the country, she hired local secretaries to carry on her massive correspondence. She was said to keep six secretaries busy simultaneously. Material written in her own hand is voluminous but extremely hurried and virtually illegible.

Nothing concerning women escaped Willard's attention. She campaigned for change in prostitution laws, attacking grievous situations that were allowed to flourish. Prostitution in some lumber camps amounted to child slavery. The age of consent in twenty states was a mere ten years of age, and in one it was seven. According to Willard, the laws of purity were to be equally binding on men and women. The sexual crimes of men must not go unpunished. The men who patronized a prostitute should be equally guilty under the law as the prostitute who served him.

On the subject of rape, Willard wrote, "It is by holding men to the same standard of morality that society shall rise to higher levels, and by punishing with extreme penalties such men as inflict upon women atrocities compared with which death would be infinitely welcome. When we reflect that in Massachusetts and Vermont it is a greater crime to steal a cow than to abduct and <rape> a girl, and that in Illinois <rape> is not considered a crime, it is a marvel not to be explained that we go the even tenor of our way, too delicate, too refined, too prudish to make any allusion to these awful facts, much less take up arms against these awful crimes. We have been the victims of conventional cowardice too long."

Under Willard, the WCTU worked for the development of Traveler Aid to assist women in their attempt to remain pure while searching for work. They also established homes for the reclamation of prostitutes.

There was some pretty advanced thinking going on over a century ago (in reaction to some pretty horrific stuff that was going on as recently as that). And over the years since, the women doing it, and busting their bums to improve the lives of other women, have come to be dismissed as, yes, pearl-clutchers. They deserve a lot more attention and recognition for what they really were: brave and important social reformers, and feminists.

7 replies, 4259 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 7 replies Author Time Post
Reply feminism, temperance and prostitution (Original post)
iverglas Apr 2012 OP
seabeyond Apr 2012 #1
Little Star Apr 2012 #2
iverglas Apr 2012 #3
Little Star Apr 2012 #4
boston bean Apr 2012 #5
iverglas Apr 2012 #7
iverglas Apr 2012 #6

Response to iverglas (Original post)

Response to iverglas (Original post)

Mon Apr 16, 2012, 03:14 PM

2. I've never heard of Frances Willard....

but I am just in the learning phase of feminism. I glanced through your link and she looks like a mighty interesting woman.

I need to wait until it's a bit more quiet around here so that I can concentrate to really read about her.

Thanks for the link. I think I'm gonna get a good education around this group thanks to people like you and others.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to Little Star (Reply #2)

Mon Apr 16, 2012, 03:21 PM

3. I certainly never had either!


Probably mainly because I'm not USAmerican. But hanging around the Guns forum, I just got sick and tired of the dissing of the temperance women, for example -- the talk of "moral panic" and the total distortions of their work -- because I did know more generally what their efforts were really about, and how intertwined with feminist and humanist and progressive concerns they were, and googled up Frances Willard eventually.

Yes, an amazingly active, prolific, she-got-it woman for sure.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to iverglas (Reply #3)

Mon Apr 16, 2012, 03:46 PM

4. I have a lot to learn....

so don't be bringing in the guns forum. Just another subject I need to study!

It's a good thing I enjoy learning stuff. I just hope people have patience with me as I stumble along here about feminism.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to iverglas (Original post)

Mon Apr 16, 2012, 04:12 PM

5. nice post iverglas.

some very forward thinking there but the times are what made it necessary.

Seems as though today, since there are laws, many believe prostitution is not an issue. If you think of the reasons the laws were made, it might bring one to a better understanding.

The history hasn't really passed though, if you think about the human trafficking problems this country and many others have.

Much of early feminism had a moral/biblical twist to it. Using the bible to justify certain rights for women.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to boston bean (Reply #5)

Mon Apr 16, 2012, 04:32 PM

7. I've wandered off from the prostitution aspect ;)


Another connection between the two issues, temperance and prostitution, is that in 19th century cities in England and the US alike, the women of the streets would have essentially all been alcoholics themselves, and thus especially vulnerable to abuse, and the men whose mercy they were at would commonly have been alcoholics as well, and as abusive as alcoholic men are today, without the social sanctions we have.

Ah, I see the 19th century happy hooker is alive and well:

Well, once again: yes, there was undoubtedly a privileged class of prostitutes. The women killed by Jack the Ripper weren't among them.

Just some more surfing ...


Another major part of reform is women - whether the cause of it, the supporters of it, or those benefiting from it. Consider the major reform movements of the nineteenth century. Abolitionism dealt with the intrinsic unfairness of enslaving a person in a country where every man is supposedly created equal. Slavery exposed a hideous discrepancy and therefore Americans finally moved to eradicate it. The fact that women were still not given rights as slavery was abolished exposed only more incongruity within the Nation's basic structure. Thus, the women's movement grew directly out of abolitionism.

Accordingly, women saw temperance (and later, prohibition) as a way to eliminate the decay caused by alcoholism in a family. Women living in an urban area experienced firsthand the poverty so often inflicted by an alcoholic breadwinner. Women living in an insolated rural home were forced to endure the constant terror of living with an unpredictable and possibly violent addict without any hope of being observed and rescued.# To women, temperance seemed like the perfect solution, and thus, they were able to unite in support of the movement.# Through involvement in the newly politicized arena of moral reform, they also took one more step into the public sphere of political causes and activity.

Temperance wasn't the only moral reform movement that enabled women to step out in public. Whether lobbying against prostitution, abortion, alcoholism, or slavery, women had inadvertently created an effective niche for themselves in the formerly exclusive male public world. Apart from moral reform, women were also stepping out of the private female sphere of the home into the new world of the working class woman. In this new world, women developed their lives in response to the regulations and controls of officials, in an environment much more suited to anonymity and freedom#. Of course, women's new place did not go unchallenged. In 1848, famous abolitionists and women's rights advocates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott fashioned a new Declaration of Independence, called the Declaration of Sentiments, to include all men and women. The Mechanic's Advocate, a men's magazine, promptly published a response to the declaration, calling it a "parody," and denouncing the women who "attend these meetings <Women's Rights conventions>, no doubt at the expense of their more appropriate duties…"# This response illuminates one of the most incendiary aspects of the moral reform movements of the nineteenth century: not a battle of the sexes per se, but an undeniable emphasis on women's sexuality and their "place" in society.

... Women were perhaps the most effective instigators of reform, and probably those who benefited most from it. Trapped in the restrictive confines of the private female sphere, women were invaluable and yet their true potential was not yet unlocked. It was the sexuality of women that spurred many a reform movement and the voices of women that kept them going strong. It is a substantial understatement to say that women played a central role in the moral reform explosion of the nineteenth century, and their involvement marks the moment in history where women and the other outcasts of American society finally began to get their due.

Truly, women/feminists have been the most "intersectional" of persons and groups since they first set down their dustcloths and went out the front door and joined together.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to iverglas (Original post)

Mon Apr 16, 2012, 04:18 PM

6. there is so much available on this subject on the net today


I don't want to minimize the extent to which women's early temperance work was perverted into something else ... once men took over the movement and it became Prohibition in the US.

But the work women did, and the feminism of it, was really remarkable, and has been terribly overlooked in US history.

It included African-American women ...


Throughout her autobiography Emma Ray’s ministry and personal life is deeply connected to the temperance movement of the early 20th century. One of the most powerful sections of Twice Sold, Twice Ransomed takes place in 1914 when the state of Washington puts the probation issue on the state ballot. The 18th amendment, outlawing alcohol nationally, wasn’t passed until 1919. So, Washington was leading the way in a national effort to ban alcohol. The work of prohibitionists such as Emma and Lloyd who worked with other Free Methodists and members of various religious movements was a driving force in Washington deciding at the state level to consider probation. Prior to the election Emma, Lloyd, members of the Free Methodist Olive Branch Mission in Seattle, and thousands of other activists marched together in a political “get out the vote” parade. Emma describes it in vivid detail: ...

I had witnessed such a sight once before when but a child, and that was when the Negro race celebrated its first national independence. I felt just such a thrill then as I did when in the parade. Every one that could walk marched in the parade. Mothers with small children holding on to their skirts, and with babies in their arms, some of the returned soldiers from the war, and old ex-slave men.” (p.242-243)

... Looking back we have the hindsight of seeing the failures of the prohibitionist movement. However, what is often overlooked is the fact that this was one of the first movements, besides the abolitionist movement, that allowed women to actively organize and participate in public politics. Both the abolitionist and temperance movement paved the way for the suffragist movement that was also gaining moment about the same time as the temperance movement. ... There is an intrinsic connection between the temperance movement and the suffragist movement; yet the connections are often ignored because the temperance movement is viewed as a conservative religious movement separate from feminism. Yet, if women, such as Emma Ray, felt empowered by their faith and their belief in prohibition then this should not be overlooked just because it might not fit into the accepted narrative of first wave feminism.

Citing scriptural authority was in fact about the only way for women to make their voices heard in public in the early days of the temperance movement. It both gave them voice, as women's voices would simply not have been listened to on their own, and protected them against accusations of self-seeking, which of course women should not be. Women should act in the interests of enslaved people, children, the poor ... but not themselves, by the standards of the times ... and not only then ...

I'd never heard of Emma Ray before 10 minutes ago; I was just googling feminism temperance.


Emma Ray was born a slave in Springfield, Missouri. After the Civil War her mother died, leaving her father to care for their large family by himself. Her early life was filled with periodic schooling and working as a domestic servant in white, Southern households. After marrying L.P. Ray at age twenty-eight they moved around the country looking for work. ... She devoted her life to promoting temperance issues, helping the poor, convicts, drug addicts and anyone else who needed help. She was drawn to the Free Methodist Church because of their support for the Weslyean belief in entire sanctification and their social activism and reform efforts in the Seattle area. While her autobiography contains numerous hymns and poems that have meaning to her, she did not write poetry herself. However the poem “Twice Sold, Twice Ransomed” serves as Ray’s life motto and theme for her book.


While both Emma Ray and Eliza Suggs were Free Methodist African-American women at the turn of the 20th century, there stories are not identical. Both begin their personal narratives with family stories about their oppression and abuse in slavery. Yet, while both women address slavery they do not specifically blame the evils of slave holding on their white masters, instead focusing on larger social issues associated with slavery such as alcoholism, rape, and abuse, which are portrayed as elements of sinful human nature regardless of race. Thus, both women differentiate themselves from the white members of their denomination by their cultural heritage while at the same time resisting strong rhetorical claims of blame on the white audience they are appealing to through their autobiographies.

Emma Ray's autobiography can be read on line:


Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread