Frances Willard founded the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in
1884 to carry the message of women's emancipation throughout the
world. Based in the United States, the WCTU rapidly became an
international organization, with affiliates in forty-two countries.
Ian Tyrrell tells the extraordinary story of how a handful of women
sought to change the mores of the world -- not only by abolishing
alcohol but also by promoting peace and attacking prostitution,
poverty, and male control of democratic political structures.
In describing the work of Mary Leavitt, Jessie Ackermann, and other
temperance crusaders on the international scene, Tyrrell identifies
the tensions generated by conflict between the WCTU's universalist
agenda and its own version of an ideologically and religiously
based form of cultural imperialism. The union embraced an
international and occasionally ecumenical vision that included a
critique of Western materialism and imperialism. But, at the same
time, its mission inevitably promoted Anglo-American cultural
practices and Protestant evangelical beliefs deemed morally
superior by the WCTU.
Tyrrell also considers, from a comparative perspective, the
peculiar links between feminism, social reform, and evangelical
religion in Anglo-American culture that made it so difficult for
the WCTU to export its vision of a woman-centered mission to other
cultures. Even in other Western states, forging links between
feminism and religiously based temperance reform was made virtually
impossible by religious, class, and cultural barriers. Thus, the
WCTU ultimately failed in its efforts to achieve a sober and pure
world, although its members significantly shaped the values of
those countries in which it excercised strong influence.
As and urgently needed history of the first largescale worldwide
women's organization and non-denominational evangelical
institution, Woman's World / Woman's Empire
will be a
valuable resource to scholars in the fields of women's studies,
religion, history, and alcohol and temperance studies.