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WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union) fonds (P590)

1887-1897. - 3,1 cm of textual records.

Administrative History - Biographical Sketch:

The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was one of the first women's rights movements in Canada, and one of the most active. Established in 1873 in the United States, in Ohio, by Frances E. Willard, the WCTU soon became the largest national (then international) women's movement. The organization opened a number of offices in Canada, including one in Montreal in 1887. It had already opened a first Canadian chapter in Ontario in 1874. The local chapters, called "unions," enjoyed a great deal of autonomy, even though they maintained very close ties with the national chapters.

The goal of the WCTU was to protect the home from evil influences and strengthen family life, but its primary objective was to promote total abstinence from alcohol. As part of its pro-family program, the WCTU fought to have prohibition laws passed (and later antitobacco and antidrug laws), but also to support causes such as women's suffrage and the abolition of prostitution. A Christian movement, it encouraged Bible readings and prayer recitation in schools. The WCTU also took a strong interest in marriage licences, citizenship and new immigrants, as well as in causes such as world peace and child welfare.

Today, the WCTU has 500,000 members in 72 countries. It has contributed to the birth of other movements, including that of the International Council of Women (founded in 1893).

The Montreal chapter of the WCTU likely opened in 1887, at 562-564 Dorchester Street (now René Lévesque Boulevard). It was initially headed by Miss E. G. Barber, then by Miss A. Montgomery. The WCTU is listed in Lovell's directory until 1910, when it was located at 152 St. Urbain Street (formerly having been at 92 St. Urbain for some time). It took in not only women who were struggling with alcohol problems, but also battered, sick (physically and/or mentally), unemployed and destitute women as well as women waiting to go back to Europe. Some Aboriginal and a few Black women were also given shelter. While some women stayed for just one night, others were accommodated for several weeks. What became of the shelter after 1910 is not known. The services it provided may have been taken over by another institution, like the Women's Hospital.

Lovell's directory also lists another WCTU chapter, located at 4600 (later 4630) Sherbrooke Street in Westmount, which appears to have been active from 1908 to 1914. At this time, the WCTU also ran a number of "free libraries" and reading rooms.

Scope and Content:

The material in this fonds concerns various aspects of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the late 19th century, and offers a glimpse into the lives of disadvantaged women in an urban setting like Montreal. It also contains significant documentation on the activities of charitable organizations at a time when social services were virtually non-existent.

The fonds consists of a register in which intake information about needy women who stayed at the WCTU's shelter was recorded. The information included the woman's name, her place of origin, her religious denomination and the problems she was having. Comments about her behaviour were often also noted.