Woman's Christian Temperance Union

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union was established in Tasmania in 1885 and continues today. It involved women from all walks of life but typically white, married or widowed, later middle-aged, middle-class Protestant women who believed in abstaining from alcohol. The WCTU was an international organisation founded on the belief that alcohol abuse was the cause of major defects and evils in society; its ultimate goal was to establish prohibition in every country of the globe. At its height it had 25 branches across Tasmania with 410 members, but it had only two branches in 2003.

In Tasmania the work of the WCTU manifested itself in three main areas: temperance, outreach and child welfare work. Another early goal was womanhood suffrage. It was the only Tasmanian organisation campaigning for the suffrage, which was granted in 1903 after eleven years of agitating. Though described in its early years as the most 'militant' Tasmanian women's organisation, the WCTU worked through educating and attempting to influence legislation. In temperance work, it gained some local successes but no major victory. It did provide temperance literature and alternatives to alcohol. This work continued into the 1960s when the WCTU noted interest in anti-alcohol education, anti-gambling legislation and tighter film and literature censorship.

The WCTU was the first international women's organisation to come to Tasmania and the first to encourage women to move outside their homes and work in the public sphere. It gave women a forum for discussion state-wide and was the first 'feminist' organisation established in Tasmania.

Further reading: R Jordan, 'White-ribboners', Honours thesis, UT, 2001.

Renée Jordan