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Temperance & Women

By 1831, there were over 24 women's organizations dedicated to the temperance movement. Women were specifically drawn to the temperance movement, because it represented a fight to end a practice that greatly affected women's quality of life. Temperance was seen as a feminine, religious and moral duty, and when achieved, it was seen as a way to gain familial and domestic security as well as salvation in a religious sense.

Furthermore, temperance activists were able to promote suffrage more effectively than suffrage activists themselves, because of their wide-ranging experience as activists, and because they argued for a concrete aim of safety at home, rather than an abstract aim of justice as the suffragists did.

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More women were involved in temperance than any other cause in US history up to that point. Women’s involvement seemed natural since the movement targeted men’s alcohol abuse and how it harmed women and children. At first, the Temperance Movement sought to moderate drinking, then to promote resisting the temptation to drink.

Women rose to leadership roles with the founding of the national Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), based in the United States, in 1874. Temperance became known as the “Woman’s Crusade,” and women staged peaceful demonstrations of prayer at businesses that served alcohol. These methods reflected the gentle moral guidance expected from women of the era. 

The White Ribbon Association (WRA), previously known as the British Women's Temperance Association (BWTA), was founded following interest of the Women's Temperance Crusade movement in the states. A meeting in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1876, featuring American temperance activist "Mother" Eliza Stewart, established the WRA.

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In the 1870s and 1880s, the number of women in the middle and upper classes was large enough to support women participation in the temperance movement. Higher class women did not need to work and could rely on their husbands to support their families and consequently had more leisure time to engage in organizations and associations related to the temperance movement.

 At the approach of the 20th century, the temperance movement became more interested in legislative reform as the pressure from the Anti-Saloon League increased. Women, having not yet achieved suffrage became less central to the movement in the early 1900s.

Many women who participated in the Temperance Movement also contributed to other forms of social activism, such as abolition, women’s suffrage, and equal rights for women and people of colour.

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