The Woman's Christian Temperance Union, which was Protestant, held its first public meeting in Tasmania on 29 November 1885. It campaigned against the use of alcohol and in favour of morally upright mothers. To promote its ideas politically, the Union advocated votes for women. In 2013, the Union still holds many of its original beliefs but has modernised its causes.
The members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union were advocates of alcoholic abstinence and 'moral purity', which really meant no sex without marriage. They were supporters of motherhood and wanted to raise its status through the vote. In order to justify that status, they were concerned that mothers should avoid alcohol and sex outside marriage so that they could teach their children to do the same. Since bodies were, in the words of the Union, 'temples of the Holy Ghost', its members also emphasised health through cleanliness and wholesome food. One member warned that: 'Those whom God has put together, ill cooked joints and ill boiled potatoes very often put asunder'. Union members also recommended 'rational dress', airy rooms, and good bedding. They saw child neglect as an extreme result of the parents', especially the mother's, tendency to drink alcohol or failure to behave in a sexually modest way, and inability, usually because of the first two behaviours, to look after their children properly. The Union did not see poverty as a cause of child neglect.
During the 1890s, the Union was concerned about street children in Tasmania. In 1896, their leader, Annie Blair:
deplored the wretched homes from which these poor waifs come and [found] that drunkenness and impurity reign, instead of these poor children being shielded by their parents, they are in many cases driven to sin.
Members of the Union believed that these children should be removed from their homes and placed with foster mothers. Grace Soltau, their first leader said that:
The care of a motherly woman, the discipline of a father's presence, the contact with boys and girls, in fact the whole circumstances of a natural family life - which is the divine institution - are much more helpful to most children, especially the more degraded ones, than the best school is.
In the 1890s, during a campaign to remove children, especially girls, from the streets, the Union successfully placed pressure on the government to pass the Youthful Offenders, Destitute and Neglected Children's Act. The Act included provisions to make children state wards if their parents were alcoholics or prostitutes, and if girls, if they were found soliciting. These provisions are probably due to the influence of the Union.
Following the passage of the Act, the Union's influence in child welfare policy seems to have declined because of the growing power of the Women's Health Association, formed in 1901.
In 2013, the WCTU seeks to promote a belief in God, to uphold Christian values, to protect the rights of women and children, and to help those who are disadvantaged because of discrimination. It continues to oppose alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, and prostitution.
Sources used to compile this entry: Evans, Caroline, Protecting the Innocent: Tasmania's Neglected Children, Their Parents and State Care, 1890-1918, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 1999, 251 pp, http://eprints.utas.edu.au/14453/; Evans, Caroline, 'Declining Volunteerism in Tasmania's Neglected Children's Department, 1896-1918', Tasmanian Historical Studies, vol. 16, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, 2011, pp. 73-88; Pearce, Vicki, ''A few viragos on an old stump': the womanhood suffrage campaign in Tasmania, 1880-1920', Tasmanian Historical Research Association: papers and proceedings, vol. 32, no. 4, 1985, pp. 151-164.
Prepared by: Caroline Evans
Created: 4 March 2013, Last modified: 24 October 2017