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Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Iowa records

Identifier: IWA0751

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Scope and Contents

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Iowa records date from 1874 to 2006 and measure 18.75 linear feet. The records are arranged in twelve series: History, Administration, Annual conventions, County files, Local branches, Youth divisions, Newspaper clippings, Benedict Home, Education, Topical files, and Artifacts. The WCTU of Iowa Records document the growth and development of one of the largest women's groups in Iowa.

The History series (1887-2006) includes timelines, unpublished reports, and correspondence regarding the history of the WCTU as well as biographical writings on important figures in the WCTU of Iowa, the national WCTU, and the temperance movement in general. Most of the documents were organized in binders when the collection was donated to the IWA. A majority of the materials have been removed from binders and placed into folders. The organizational history records consist of the articles of incorporation, newspaper clippings, and lists of officers. The biographical profiles include a scrapbook maintained by Gertrude Walton of Earlham, Iowa, from the 1910s until the 1930s, tributes to Frances Willard, and pictures of WCTU members from national conventions.

The Administration series (1891-1998) consists of meeting minutes, financial records, and legal documents. The records of the Board of Trustees are both written and typed, which accounts for a duplication of some records. Some of the notebooks include minutes from both the Board of Trustees and the General Board, some minutes appear to be in the wrong notebook, and some minutes appear to pertain to the Board of Trustees of the Benedict House. Researchers should look through all of the minutes to find information pertinent to each administrative arm of the WCTU of Iowa. The "general officers" meetings seem to be the same as "general board meetings."

The legal documents include briefs, petitions, judicial orders and accompanying documents of WCTU's lawsuits, many of them related to property owned by the WCTU. The "wills" files contain letters, judicial notices, and notes from attorneys regarding wills that included WCTU as a legatee.

The Annual conventions series (1874-2005) consists of programs and proceedings for annual state, national, and international meetings of the WCTU. The convention records of the WCTU of Iowa (1874-1990) include proceedings from the first state convention in 1874 until 1990. They include lists of officers and department directors, the state president's annual address, officers' and departments' reports, convention resolutions, minutes of the board and general meetings of the convention, bylaws, district reports, and a directory of local clubs with contact information. The state organization split in two in 1890, when the WCTU of the State of Iowa was formed. This organization existed until 1906 when the two branches reunited. Proceedings of the WCTU of the State of Iowa are separated into their own subseries.

The contents of the national booklets (1889-2005) usually include a listing of all national officers and department [committee] members, the president's address, reports of officers and department chairs, minutes of the annual meeting, and lists of lifetime members. Older booklets also include extensive reports from all national committees, a copy of the by-laws, and quantitative membership information by state. For some years there are also programs, which were distributed ahead of the meeting, and separate pamphlets containing the president's address. Many booklets from national conventions that occurred prior to the mid-1930s are missing.

The County files (1886-2006) are arranged alphabetically by county. The amount, type, and dates of the information within each folder vary considerably. Information within each folder is often organized by city. Folders generally include membership lists and may also include brief chapter histories, pamphlets, photographs, programs, reports, and correspondence.

The Local branches series (1878-1995) is the largest series in the collection. The records are arranged alphabetically by county, then by city within each county. The bulk of records pertain to the WCTU of Le Mars and chapters located in Des Moines, Iowa. This series consists primarily of handwritten books that include meeting minutes and financial records. Many local branch records include membership lists and donation records; a few books include newspaper clippings and photographs of members. A record book maintained during the late nineteenth century by the Total Abstinence Union of Denison, Iowa, which was not a branch of the WCTU, completes this series.

The Youth divisions series (1930-1996) consists of scrapbooks and photo albums maintained by the Youth Temperance Council (YTC) and the Loyal Temperance League (LTL). The scrapbooks of the YTC include photographs of national officers, club advisors, and prominent authors of books about temperance from the 1930s until the 1950s. They also include itineraries from the annual YTC camp, held at Lake Ahquabi, in Indianola, Iowa, and from national conventions. The records of the LTL include temperance pledges, photographs, and handwritten minutes.

The Newsletters series (1891-2004) consists primarily of the WCTU Champion, the official monthly newsletter of the WCTU of Iowa. The original title of the monthly newsletter was the WCTU Bulletin, but it changed to the Champion in November 1906. The newsletters include presidential and treasurer reports, information about the Benedict Home, and summaries of legislative and educational initiatives. This collection is missing copies of the Champion published between 1909 and 1926. Issues from 1924 and 1925 are available at the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City. Newsletters from the National WCTU and the White Ribbons branch of the WCTU, as well as temperance newsletters from organizations not affiliated with the WCTU complete the series.

The Newspaper clippings series (1884-1972) includes articles published in state and national newspapers that pertain to temperance, WCTU leaders, and crimes and accidents attributable to drugs or alcohol. A bound scrapbook of poetry completes the series.

The Benedict Home series (1879-1995) includes records pertaining to the administration of the Benedict Home in Des Moines, Iowa. It includes a handwritten account of the unmarried women who gave birth at the Benedict Home in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The bulk of the series consists of financial records, including donations, treasurers' reports, and endowment fund records.

The Education series (1889-1994) consists primarily of scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings, brochures, and form letters that warn of the dangers of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and gambling. Songbooks from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries complete the series.

The Topical files series (1879-1991) includes newspaper clippings, legal documents, correspondence, and photographs related to the WCTU of Iowa's work on a variety of issues. The largest topic in the series is prohibition. Records in the prohibition folders pertain primarily to Iowa WCTU initiatives, though a number of national WCTU efforts are addressed. The World War I folder includes photographs of US soldiers.

The Artifacts consist of small cloth bags labeled with city and county WCTUs of Iowa and a large cloth wall hanging with Sunday School temperance pledges from Exline, Iowa.


  • Creation: 1874-2006


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

The first state convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Iowa was held in 1874, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This convention united nineteen of the state's temperance unions under the leadership of President E. A. Wheeler. The first convention of the National WCTU was also held in 1874, with Annie Wittenmyer of Keokuk, Iowa, serving as the first president of the organization. The WCTU of Iowa held an annual convention each October in churches across the state. Women became members of the WCTU of Iowa upon signing the WCTU of Iowa Constitution, pledging to perform temperance work, and paying annual dues. The WCTU of Iowa provided organization, administration, and directives to Iowa's county WCTUs. County WCTUs were responsible for providing administrative oversight to local WCTU chapters.

WCTU members in Iowa were engaged in a range of educational, legislative, and political efforts during the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the social purity movement, efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency, and support for women's suffrage. The WCTU drew upon educated and professional women to provide legal counsel, devise legislative strategies, and write reports on social issues. In 1874, members were encouraged to "improve their right of petition" by sending state legislators "urgent and persistent appeals" to ban the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.

In the 1880s, members petitioned the state to form a women's prison and reformatory. In 1882, shortly after the organization became an incorporated body, the WCTU of Iowa founded the Benedict Home in Des Moines, Iowa, as a reformatory for "fallen women." Over 1,900 single pregnant women and former prostitutes lived at the Home between 1882 and 1943. Nearly 1,600 babies were born at the Benedict Home; many were placed for adoption. Young women had to be free of venereal disease and promise to receive at least one year of Christian training at the Home. Relatives were not permitted to visit young women during their "confinement," and residents were permitted to send two letters per week; letters were subject to review by supervisors at the Benedict Home. The Home was supported by donations from local WCTU chapters and modest funding from the State of Iowa. After 1943, the Benedict Home served as a retirement home for WCTU members and later, as a shelter for recovering addicts.

At the 1889 annual convention of the National WCTU, under the leadership of Frances Willard, delegates voted to endorse candidates running on the Prohibition ticket in races across the United States. The Iowa delegation walked out of the convention to protest the National WCTU's decision to engage in partisan politics. Later, at the 1889 annual convention of the WCTU of Iowa, President Judith Ellen Foster voiced her displeasure with the National WCTU's decision when she read aloud a portion of the WCTU of Iowa Constitution, "This organization shall be non-partisan in its political work." The WCTU of Iowa established a special fund to hold members' dues until the National WCTU disengaged from partisan politics.

A group of Iowa women disagreed with Foster and supported the National WCTU's engagement with partisan politics. At the 1890 annual convention of the WCTU of Iowa, a faction led by Marion H. Dunham defected from the WCTU of Iowa, pledging to support the agenda of the National WCTU. This new group called itself the WCTU of the State of Iowa. For the next sixteen years, Iowa had two statewide WCTUs. The first organization, the WCTU of Iowa, remained the larger of the two during this period and continued to publish the newsletter, the WCTU Bulletin. The smaller group, the WCTU of the State of Iowa, supported the partisan agenda of the National WCTU, and was presided over by Marion Dunham for its entire sixteen year history. Frances Willard and Anna A. Gordon attended the first meeting of the WCTU of the State of Iowa, held in Des Moines in 1891. The two branches reunited in 1906.

At this time, the monthly newspaper of the WCTU of Iowa took a new name, the WCTU Champion. Under the leadership of President Ida B. Wise-Smith, the WCTU of Iowa joined other statewide temperance groups to lobby successfully for the reinstatement of prohibition in Iowa in 1916, nearly four years before the US Congress passed the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol in 1919. Wise-Smith would later serve as the president of the National WCTU, after the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933. While the organization's primary focus was the prohibition of alcohol, members of the WCTU of Iowa at various times also called for the ban of tobacco, gambling, abortion, and gay marriage. Describing its methods as evangelistic, preventative, and educational, members of the WCTU of Iowa organized women across the state to combat what they perceived to be social ills. Membership in the WCTU of Iowa peaked in 1930, when it had 60,000 dues-paying members. By 2006, the organization had only ten members across the state of Iowa. Despite its small membership, WCTU members maintained a nursing home in Kearney, Iowa, and three shelters for homeless people in Des Moines.


18.75 Linear Feet

Photographs in Boxes 1-2, 20-23, 26, 34-35, 42-44, 48 and 50 boxes

Language of Materials



Organization dedicated to legislative and educational efforts to prevent juvenile delinquency and support woman's suffrage.

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 1096) were donated by Jeanne Lillig in 2007.

Existence and Location of Originals

Woman's Christian Temperance Union:

Related Publications

Anna G. Gordon, The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard [shelved in IWA printed works: HV523.W6.G7.1898]

Ruth Bordin, Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900, [shelved in Main Library stacks:HV5229.B67]

Rachel Bohlmann, "Drunken Husbands, Drunken State: The WCTU's Challenge to American Families and Public Communities in Chicago, 1874-1920," PhD Dissertation, University of Iowa, 2001. [shelved in Main Library Theses: T2001.B672]

Related Articles:

Ballard Campbell, "Did Democracy Work? Prohibition in Late Nineteenth-century Iowa: A Test Case," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 8 (1977): 87-116.

Megan Hailey-Dunsheath, "'Save Them Before They Fall': Cordelia Throop Cole and the WCTU's Social Purity Movement," Iowa Heritage Illustrated, 77 (Fall 1996): 98-115.

David C. Mott, "Judith Ellen Foster," Annals of Iowa, 19 (October 1933): 126-138.

Related Materials

Welch and Angrick Collection: Includes WCTU speeches from the late-nineteenth century and newspaper clippings and pamphlets from the twentieth century. Related collections located elsewhere:

Carl and Mary Koehler History Center of the Linn County Historical Society: Mt. Vernon, Iowa WCTU secretaries' books, 1906-1964; West Cedar Rapids WCTU secretaries' books, 1954-1992; Marion WCTU secretaries' books, 1914-1975

Nodaway Valley Museum, Clarinda, Iowa: Page County Women Temperance Folder

Cedar Falls Historical Society: WCTU ledgers, 1965-1978

State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines: Iowa Messenger, newspaper of the WCTU of Iowa [microfilm, HV 5203.I6]; WCTU of Dallas County Records, 1923-1954. [MS2005. 28 N 17/8/1]

State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City: Cole-Throop Family Papers, 1850-1933 [MS171]; CTU Champion, official newspaper of the WCTU of Iowa. SHSI of Iowa City has issues from 1924 and 1925, which are missing from the WCTU of Iowa records at the Iowa Women's Archives [microfilm, Mf55].

Western Weekly, Davenport, Iowa, temperance newspaper that pre-dates the WCTU of Iowa. [Newspaper collection]

Sharon Lake, 2007; Karissa Haugeberg, 2008.
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)