The W.C.T. U.
Bradford Women's Christian Temperance Union
Where there's drink, there's danger....
Prohibition, as the 18th Amendment is commonly called, was born 78 years ago. Adopted in 1920, for the next 13 years it remained one of the most hated, and popular amendments to the Constitution. Although President Wilson vetoed its ratification in 1919, the 18th Amendment was championed by concerned special interest groups throughout the United States, the most influential being the WCTU, or the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Bradford's own chapter of the WCTU celebrated its passage.
The history of the WCTU in Bradford can be traced as far back as 1842, when a temperance reform movement swept over the country. A temperance society was soon organized in Kendall Creek in McKean County. Its members visited farms and lumber mills to solicit men to sign a pledge against drink, and in 1870 a Good Temperance Lodge was organized in Bradford and drew members from both sides of the state line.
The WCTU of Bradford was organized in October 1880, declaring, "The Christian women of this city, conscious of the increasing evils of intemperance around us and appalled at the tendencies and dangers of it, believe that it has become our duty to unite our efforts for its extinction". (In spite of their name, most of the nation's WCTU groups did not seek to just temper the use of alcohol, they wanted a complete ban. The passage of the 18th Amendment, or Prohibition, was their finest hour.) By 1890 there were 346 members. Lodging rooms to be used as a home for homeless boys of the city were located on Mechanic Street over Smith's Drug Store, just south of the iron footbridge.
For several years Sunday afternoon prayer meetings were held along with the weekly business meeting. A Mission for newsboys was opened; a dinner for newsboys and bootblacks was given on Thanksgiving Day; and temperance handbills and leaflets were distributed by the thousands. Applications for saloon licenses in the city were closely watched, and petitions against them were a prominent feature of their work.
The early meetings were held on the Public Square. The women worked for the adoption of temperance textbooks, and instruction in the schools and brought in some of the nation's most famous speakers on their behalf. Remembered in history as an axe-toting, saloon destroying fanatic, Carrie Nation spoke here on Oct. 3, 1901 at the Lyceum on Main Street. Susan B. Anthony, renowned for her work with women's suffrage, also spoke here in 1892 at the Wagner Opera house on the corner of Main and Chambers Street.
As their work and membership grew, the meeting room on the Square became too small and a lot was bought on the corner of Corydon and Congress Streets. Part of the building from the Square was moved over, and other renovations done. Later, a second story was added to the meetinghouse, which is still standing. Its large white pillars are a landmark feature.
In many ways, however, the passage of the 18th amendment, and its repeal in 1933 foretold the end of the WCTU in America. Many felt disheartened, and "laid down their arms" in the fight against the evil of drink.
Today, in Bradford, the Women's Christian Temperance Union is just a memory. The white-pillared house on Congress Street was sold several years ago, and its profit sent to the national headquarters of the WCTU. The few remaining women disbanded in the summer of 1995. Their message, carried fervently for so many years, is fading.