Ohio History Journal

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Ohio WCTU and the Prohibition

Amendment Campaign of 1883





The Woman's Christian Temperance Union may be said to be a product of Ohio in

at least two ways  One, its foundation is the only lasting result of a phenomenon of

the winter and spring of 1873-1874 known as the Woman's Crusade, which

achieved its first success and national recognition in Ohio  This movement, in

which bands of respectable ladies marched in groups upon saloons in various loca-

tions, singing, praying, and exhorting both the dispenser and consumer of alcoholic

beverages to cease and desist, attracted attention first at Hillsboro and recorded its

initial success, the closing of all the liquor dispensaries in town, at Washington

Court House  Two, an organization officially calling itself the Woman's Christian

Temperance Union was first formally instituted in Ohio in June 1874  A national

organization of the same name was not formed until the following November in a

meeting held at Cleveland  Yet the WCTU was never as strong in Ohio as in several

other states  One key reason for this may be found in an examination of the devel-

opment and consequences of a campaign mounted in 1883 to add an amendment to

Ohio's constitution forever prohibiting the manufacture and sale of all intoxicating

liquors within the boundaries of the state  This campaign seems in retrospect to

represent the peak of the Ohio WCTU's independent influence and power.

The Ohio WCTU was not at its inception an organization which could be called

distinctly prohibitionist, i e , committed to the total abolition of the liquor traffic.

There was, in fact, a good deal of debate in the group's earliest years as to the pro-

priety of any sort of political activity on the part of those who called themselves

ladies  The debate began in the course of the Woman's Crusade itself  Those who

opposed the movement often claimed that it was some sort of political trick aimed

at influencing the municipal elections to be held that spring; those who favored it,

or were at least not openly hostile, tended to maintain that the Crusade's success de-

pended upon the women's avoidance of politics and political entanglements  Some

support for the opponents' position was provided by the readiness of the ladies and

especially their gentlemen allies to resort to the use of legal pressure when prayer

did not readily produce success  Support is also provided by the fact that the move-

ment seemed to die out after the April 1874 municipal elections, many of which





Mr  Whitaker is an Assistant Professor of History on the Marion Campus of The Ohio State University.