Suffrage and Temperance: Differing Perspectives

The fight for woman suffrage began in Oregon just following the Civil War and reached its height in the early 1900s during the Progressive Era. The movement for women’s equality through voting rights was achieved with a victorious campaign in 1912. During the Progressive Era in American history, from about 1890 to 1920, many other groups rose up to fight against perceived social injustices and for protection of the people. These groups sought to effect change in their communities locally and then in the nation and world. Those who supported both suffrage and temperance in Oregon included many members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) and the Anti-saloon League.

The temperance movement was a move to apply the moral principle of living with moderation and self-control to the issue of alcohol consumption. Many temperance organizations led the campaign for prohibition of alcohol during this period. Like the woman suffrage movement, it was organized on local, state, regional, national, and international levels. Many of the woman suffrage campaign leaders supported temperance and vice versa. The fifth Oregon W.C.T.U. president Mrs. Lucia H. Faxon Additon believed that the arrogance of man had denied woman freedom and equality before the law. However, temperance as both a moral and political issue caused some problems in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere for supporters of suffrage. Many conflicting ideas about temperance and its role in the fight for woman suffrage existed. This can be seen in the variety of reports circulating in the newspapers at the time of the 1912 campaign.

Not everyone who supported votes for women also supported temperance. Abigail Scott Duniway, a leader of the first wave of the Oregon woman suffrage campaigns, viewed the temperance movement as a hindrance to passing woman suffrage. Using harsh language against suffrage workers who sought to cooperate with the W.C.T.U. in the 1906 campaign, she advocated separation of the two movements saying that men would not vote for suffrage if the workers were promoting them together. She blamed the failures of the 1908 and 1910 ballot measures for votes for women on interference from W.C.T.U. leaders who had encouraged their membership to actively campaign for suffrage. Many thought that women would use their voting privileges to bring prohibition to the state so they voted against woman suffrage to keep prohibition from having a chance in Oregon.

Naturally, the “liquor interests,” a general term for the combined liquor industries, also opposed the temperance movement because making alcohol consumption illegal would kill their businesses. If opposing woman suffrage meant keeping the temperance movement at bay, then they would do it. An article from the Oregonian in November 1912 discusses some suspicious anti-suffrage circulars that were being published. According to the article, no one was claiming responsibility, but Eugene women were blaming the Oregon Brewers’ Association. The association’s president, Paul Wessinger, noted “We are busy in the management of our business and will not take a hand in politics unless compelled to do so by a prohibition campaign or other similar attack which we must meet in self-defense.” Though not admitting to any part in the distribution of anti-suffrage literature, he did say they would do what it took to defeat temperance.

A major force for temperance in Oregon was, of course, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.). Beginning with its first club in Portland in 1881, the W.C.T.U. staunchly advocated for prohibition of alcohol. Some supported prohibition for moral reasons, others because they believed it would protect women and children from alcohol-related abuses. Leaders of the W.C.T.U. encouraged members to get involved in the suffrage fight as they were confident in its success and viewed it as a tool for achieving prohibition. In fact, the Multnomah County unions each had a suffrage committee that was delegated the task of working on the campaign. According to an Oregonian article in February 1912, members of the Oregon W.C.T.U. held debates and presented papers on the topic at their institutes. Those members who were opposed to woman suffrage were, according to one January 1912 Oregonian article, quickly persuaded to see the issue differently following debates. Some of the members who supported suffrage included Lucia H. Faxon Additon, Ada W. Unruh, Georgia Trimble, Mary Mallet, Mrs. E. R. Martin, Frances E. Gotshall, Mrs. Markham, and others.

The temperance movement in Oregon also had the backing of the National W.C.T.U. in its fight for woman suffrage. According to a March 1912 article in the Portland Evening Telegram, the campaign included the spread of literature and a lecture series. In addition, the national convention of the W.C.T.U. was held in Portland in September of 1912 in hopes of gaining another woman suffrage state. Oregon W.C.T.U. leaders brought in national speakers to boost their efforts as well. According to a September 1912 Oregonian article, some noteworthy individuals brought on board for the Oregon woman suffrage campaign included Mrs. L. M. N. Stevens, president of the National W.C.T.U., Anna Gordon, vice-president, and national lecturers Helen Harford and Florence Ewell Atkins.

As can be seen from the variety of articles from the time and secondary interpretations, it is clear that some suffrage supporters were hesitant to link suffrage and temperance, and some, like Abigail Scott Duniway, blamed the repeated failure of the suffrage measure on the temperance movement. Duniway feared that any connection to the temperance movement interfered with campaign efforts and scared potential voters away. Though her view was extreme, she may have been justified in some of that fear as the liquor interests would not have anything to do with woman suffrage if it was linked to prohibition. Other activists readily sought to establish alliances between suffrage and temperance organizations and work. W.C.T.U. members and others regarded woman suffrage as a means to an end. Women voting would mean a larger body of likely temperance supporters in the next election. Thus, they organized during the 1912 election year and actively campaigned for woman suffrage. They were largely successful in rallying support for the suffrage cause and getting commitments from citizens to vote for the suffrage measure. Though many differing opinions on temperance existed, it is interesting to note that in the 1914 election, the first in which women could vote, Oregon voters passed statewide prohibition.

Members of the temperance movement played a key role in the 1912 campaign for woman suffrage in Oregon. Temperance workers campaigned for woman suffrage by distributing literature, holding lectures and debates, launching advertising campaigns, and even going door-to-door to get pledges of support. The activism of these temperance workers mobilized temperance-supporting male constituents to vote for woman suffrage. This work undertaken by those supporting both suffrage and temperance contributed to the final and ultimately successful campaign to achieve woman suffrage in Oregon.

Primary Sources:

“Equal Rights Indorsed: W.C.T.U. Behind Movement to Give Women the Ballot,” Oregonian, January 6, 1912, 16.

“State Suffragists Prepare For Fight,” Oregonian, November 1, 1912, 4.

“Suffrage Tour Pleases,” Oregonian, September 1, 1912, 2:5.

“Woman Suffrage Gets Aid From the W.C.T.U.,” Portland Evening Telegram, March 1, 1912, 14.

“Women Discuss Ballot,” Oregonian, February 7, 1912, 13.

Secondary Sources

Additon, Lucia H. Faxon. Twenty Eventful Years of Oregon Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 1880-1900. Statistical, Historical and Biographical. Portraits of Prominent Pioneer Workers. Portland, OR: Gotshall Printing Company, 1904.

Bordin, Ruth. Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

Duniway, Abigail Scott. Path Breaking: An Autobiographical History of the Equal Suffrage Movement in Pacific Coast States, reprint ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1971.

Edwards, G. Thomas. Sowing Good Seeds: The Northwest Suffrage Campaigns of Susan B. Anthony. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990.

Hardy, Sarah B. “Temperance and Beyond: The Oregon Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Progressive Reform during the First World War.” Undergraduate thesis, Western Oregon University, 2010.

Schiffner, Carli Crozier. “Continuing to “Do Everything” in Oregon: the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, 1900-1945 and Beyond.” Ph.D. diss., Washington State University, 2004.

Soden, Dale E. “The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in the Pacific Northwest: The Battle for Cultural Control.” Pacific Northwest Quarterly Vol. 94 No. 4 (Fall 2003): 197-207.

About The Author

Sarah B. Hardy is a senior and soon-to-be graduate of Western Oregon University’s history program and a participant in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Winter 2011 Oregon Woman Suffrage course at WOU. She has done a variety of work on Pacific Northwest history including researching the Oregon W.C.T.U. for her senior thesis, “Temperance and Beyond: The Oregon Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Progressive Reform during the First World War” in 2010 as well as writing a brief history of Salem, Oregon during an internship at the Willamette Heritage Center. Though not a native Oregonian, Sarah has a passion for Oregon’s history which began during childhood on her family’s many road trips to visit Oregon’s numerous cultural heritage sites.