|Etta Weatherson, Candace Shaw, Elizabeth Blakeman ride on a WCTU parade float on July 4, 1916, Columbus, Montana.|
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 951-822
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
The Montana Chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union or WCTU, formed in 1883. The national organization was primarily evangelical and protestant, and helped women become more involved in politics. Its purpose was to create a pure and sober world. Delegates from Butte, White Sulphur Springs, Helena, and Dillon met to organize the Montana chapter. The organization took up a number of causes and current social issues including labor, prostitution, public health, sanitation, and international peace. The organization especially advocated the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco. The Montana WCTU began with a strong leadership, but by 1886 its membership had dwindled. In that year, fifty-year-old Thomas Cruse of Helena married twenty-five-year-old Margaret Carter in the most lavish, extravagant wedding Helena had ever seen. Cruse spent an astronomical sum on the reception which officially took place at Helena’s Cosmopolitan Hotel. But the entire community celebrated the event, and saloons all over town offered free drinks. Thomas Cruse paid all the bar bills to the tune of $30,000. There was so much public drunkenness and so many hung over husbands that it reinvigorated the WCTU. The organization re-emerged. There were thirteen local chapters and departments, or committees. These included Social Purity, Unfermented Wine at Sacrament, and Purity in Literature and Art. By 1910, Montana’s WCTU had over 1,000 members and had taken up the cause of destitute mothers, the opposition to drinking Coca Cola which at that time was made with cocaine, and other causes. In 1913, the Montana WCTU had its own influential lobbyist and was instrumental in getting suffrage and eventually prohibition on the ballot. By 1916, more than 4,000 had joined. The WCTU continued to have substantial influence until the 1950s.