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Day 2: 'A war of mothers and daughters'

Women often framed their argument for political inclusion around the idea they would bring something specific to the public sphere based on their gender.
Members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) march in Washington DC in 1909.
Members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) march in Washington DC in 1909.

This is day two of the Nerdland Scholar Challenge. Not signed up? Get started here.

From the beginning of women advocating for political involvement, there’s been the assumption that they will bring something specific to the public sphere as a result of their womanhood.

In fact, women often framed their argument for political inclusion by making exactly that argument. It was the reasoning behind two key campaigns by women in the late 1800s: temperance and suffrage.

In both of these campaigns, women often framed their demands by stating that as women – and specifically, as mothers -- they had a particular perspective on issues that needed to be heard and included.

Frances E. Willard was the first secretary of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the leading temperance organization.

Assignment: Read the two excerpts below. The first is from Willard's 1874 speech, “Everybody’s War”:

“Remember it is simply a matter of fact that from the rum shops every year in America sixty thousand of our citizens reel out into eternity and taste a drunkards’ death. There are half a million steady drinkers, behind this a million moderate drinkers, behind them two million occasional drinkers, behind them all little boys go tramp, tramp, tramp to a drunkard’s tomb; And remember these unfurling ranks, for they are always full you know, must be recruited from somebody’s cradle, from somebody’s fireside, perhaps your own, no matter how stately or proud that home may be.

Some ladies say to me with all sobriety… “I wish the best in the world for your grand cause – I hope it will succeed but then I have no boys.” Perhaps you have daughters – if you have not somebody has and somebody has boys. If you have daughters and not sons try to fathom the unfathomable lessons of these words: ‘A drunkard’s wife.’

There is a war about this in America, a war of mothers and daughters, sisters and wives.”

In 1876, Willard developed the slogan “home protection” to promote suffrage and the temperance movement. Below is an excerpt from her October 5, 1876 speech, “Home Protection”:

“In our argument it has been claimed that by the changeless instincts of her nature and through the most sacred relationships of which that nature has been rendered capable, God has indicated Woman, who is the born conservator of home, to be the Nemesis of Home’s arch enemy, King Alcohol. And further, that in a Republic, this power of hers may be most effectively exercised, by giving her a voice in the decision by which the rum-shop door shall be opened or closed beside her home.”

Women argued for their right to vote, and hence their citizenship, by making the case that they would bring a needed perspective to politics that would better the nation.