Alcohol has frequently been cited over the ages as a curse to humankind. From Biblical times such early recorded events as the drunkeness of Noah and the seduction of Lot by his daughters when he was inebriated to Greek philosophers to William Shakespeare and finally to the observations of Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the American Declaration of Independence and founder of Rush Medical College, alcohol has been named as the source of much human misery and suffering.
In the early 19th century, a movement arose in England and America to abstain from so-called hard liquors. When it was observed that wine and beer, although more diluted than whiskey and rum, caused the same problems, they were also indicted and the rise of teetotalism dawned. Total abstainers became predominent in the Temperance Movement. The first organization adopting the platform of total abstinence from alcohol was the American Temperance Society whose original members met January 10, 1826 at the invitation of Dr. Justin Edwards in Boston, Massachusetts.
Temperance organizations were numerous and were present in many churches, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, and even in the United States Congress where the Congressional Temperance Society was formed, later to become in 1842 the Congressional Total -Abstinence Society.
With the Civil War in American (1861-1865), much of the work of temperance societies was suspended. With the tragic War over, the problems of alcohol addiction loomed even greater with many returning soldiers coming home firmly entrenched in drinking habits.
Women and children were especially affected as there was no provision for public social welfare at the time. Laboring men were paid daily and in far too many instances, stopped at saloons before going home. The result was poverty and need in many American homes.
The appalling social conditions caused by alcohol and men who used it gave rise to the Crusades starting in December, 1873, first in Fedonia, New York, then in Hillsboro and Washington Court House, Ohio and then nationwide. Dr. Dio Lewis provided the spark which ignited the masses of suffering women into the organization known as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Women, formerly always in the background and serving as wives, homemakers, and mothers, were seen taking to the streets as lines of them marched tø neighborhood saloons, singing hymns as they marched. Upon their arrival at a bar, they would typically petition the bar owner to cease his business, accompanied by hymns and prayers. The results were outstanding as tavern after tavern closed.
At the very first Chautauqua Institute held in 1874, the thoughts of women present were captivated with what was happening around the Country. A call went out for interested women to gather at the Second Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, Ohio the following November and at that convention, the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union was formed.
Woman's Christian Temperance Union, often called by its initials, WCTU, stood and stands for total abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and all harmful drugs and protection of the home. The name was first adopted in Fredonia, New York and then at the suggestion of Mrs. S. M. I. Henry, it was also adopted by the national body.
As the WCTU spread from Coast to Coast, a call went out from May Gould of Los Angeles for Frances Willard to organize in Southern California. On September 20 and 21, 1883, the first State Convention was called and the WCTU of Southern California was organized at the First Presbyterian Church, 2nd and Fort (now Broadway) Streets, Los Angeles. Mrs. Gould was the wife of an early Los Angeles attorney, Will Gould and both were active members of the Indendent Order of Good Templars (IOGT). Their name is memorialized today by Gould Canyon in La Canada and a street named for them exiting the 210 Freeway in La Canada.
The WCTU had earlier been centered in northern California but at this time, the State of California was divided into two state organizations for better coverage by the WCTU. Eventually the counties included in WCTU of Southern California were Kern, Inyo and Santa Luis Obispo in the north down to Imperial and San Diego in the south.
The first President of WCTU of Southern California was Miss Martha Hathaway, an educator. It was during the second President, Mrs. Olive Bird's term of office that the organization was incorporated in order to receive the Good Templars' gift of property located on the Northwest Corner of Temple & Broadway in Los Angeles where the Temperance Temple was later constructed. Mrs. Eva Craven Wheeler, 15th State President, had the distinction of being the first woman juror in the State of California. During the term of each president much was accomplished as the WCTU worked for such laudible goals as woman suffrage, child labor laws, and suppression of the liquor and other drug traffic.