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Georgia Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records

Identifier: Manuscript Collection No. 647

Scope and Content Note

The records of the Georgia Woman's Christian Temperance Union, dating from 1888 to 1982, but falling mostly in the 1930 to 1956 period, include correspondence, reports, minutes, financial and membership records, printed material and memorabilia that document the efforts the organization made to attain statewide legal prohibition of alcoholic beverages and to encourage personal abstinence. The papers show how the union pursued its goals by supporting temperance legislation in the Georgia General Assembly, by encouraging citizens to vote for such legislation in city, county, and state elections, and by campaigning for politicians who were "known drys." The collection also reveals how the organization worked to educate Georgians about the consequences of alcoholism.

Belonging largely to the period after national prohibition ended in 1933, the records show that besides working towards prohibition and abstinence, the WCTU in Georgia spent considerable energy maintaining the organization. Materials also show that other issues sometimes caught the attention of WCTU women including President Franklin Roosevelt's attempt to pack the Supreme Court, the United Nations Resolution on Genocide, gambling, and equal rights for women, but for the most part the records indicate that the Georgia union maintained a fairly tight focus on temperance and organizational issues.

Because the records came to the library in almost complete disarray, they were arranged according to provenance with papers most specific to the Georgia union coming before those generated by other organizations.

Most of the activities of the Georgia WCTU are documented in Series 1, Correspondence (1911-1981), which includes letters exchanged by various state officers with WCTU members, with other state and national officers, with politicians and with members of other associated organizations. It is possible to see in this series the way the Georgia union carried out its mission as well as the organization's internal management. Series 2, Reports and Minutes (1904-1980) and Series 3, Financial and Membership Records (1930-1981) also document the organization's operation. The minutes in Series 2 are not complete enough to offer a comprehensive view of the state union but do include valuable materials in the set of short reports written for a weekly newspaper column and in the historical accounts located at the end of the series. The financial records in Series 3 are also fragmentary and primarily include bills and receipts as well as brief annual reports from local unions. Similarly, the membership materials are made up of lists of names probably generated as part of the state treasurer's management of dues.

Series 4, Program Material (1930-1981), includes papers generated by the state office and related to the presentation of WCTU issues to local union members and to the general public. Some educational and illustrative material was formulated for monthly meetings. The series also contains notes and printed material that document the management of the Georgia union's agenda; these records take the form of working files belonging to various state officers.

Printed material (1888-1982) produced by the Georgia WCTU is contained in Series 5 and includes a few pamphlets created at the state level, convention programs and reports, copies of the union organ, The Georgia Bulletin, and two boxes of clippings. Materials relative to the two youth organizations operated by the WCTU are contained in Series 6, Youth Temperance Council (YTC, 1938-1981) and Series 7, Loyal Temperance Legion (LTL, 1938-1979). Like the WCTU itself, these two organizations existed at both the state and national levels, and both series include papers generated by the parallel organizations. The YTC offered temperance activities to high school and college students while the LTL focused on younger children. The papers in Series 6 and 7 include administrative records, correspondence, program and printed materials, as well as a few reports, financial records, lists, and memorabilia.

In the course of the Georgia union's history, a variety of national WCTU materials accrued including mimeographed correspondence issued to the states in support of the national agenda, a large collection of tracts and pamphlets, and fairly complete sets of national convention reports and news bulletins.

These records, located in Series 8, National WCTU (1893-1981), document the issues that were taken up at the national level, the methods used to present issues to the state organizations, and the ways national officers formulated the issues for the general public. Newsletters gathered from other state WCTU organizations are located in Series 9, Other WCTU Organizations (1922-1981). At the end of that series are also newsletters from a union in New Zealand and a few World WCTU records.

Series 10, Collected Material (1926-1979), contains a variety of materials but mostly printed items from other temperance, religious and public interest organizations. The papers produced by the Methodist and Baptist Churches are substantive as are materials of the Georgia Temperance League. A publication entitled Saracen Fact Sheet offers a good deal of information about the 1928 presidential election and the repeal of prohibition.

Georgia WCTU officers who are well represented in the collection include Mary Scott Russell, Emmie Dent (Mrs. Luther Dent), Daisy Byrd (Mrs. V.L. Byrd), Bertha Birdsong (Mrs. H.W. Birdsong), and Kate Dugger (Mrs. William Dugger). The collection also holds one letter from Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (June 21, 1960) and several letters from Georgia Senators Herman E. Talmadge and Richard Russell (1957-1958). Various Georgia Congressmen and state assemblymen also wrote to the WCTU regarding temperance issues.


  • 1888-1982
  • Majority of material found within ( 1930-1956)

Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

Special restrictions apply: Due to the fragile nature of the originals, researchers are required to use the photocopies of The Georgia Bulletin (OP 8-26).

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Historical Note

The first Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in Georgia was founded in Atlanta after Eliza Stewart, one of those instrumental in the 1874 founding of the national WCTU, spoke to a group of Atlanta temperance advocates. After the initial contact, other national WCTU organizers, including Frances E. Willard, visited cities and towns throughout the state. By 1883 there were enough unions in the state to organize the Georgia Woman's Christian Temperance Union. The state organization located its headquarters in Atlanta and beginning in 1930 occupied the North Highland Avenue house that is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Jane Elizabeth Sibley (Mrs. William C. Sibley), Missouri H. Stokes, Mrs. E.E. Harper, Jennie Hart Sibley, and Rebecca Latimer Felton (Mrs. W.H. Felton) were among the women who provided leadership during the state union's early years.

The WCTU as a whole was primarily a temperance organization, but because its leaders, if not its members, identified alcohol as a root of most social ills, they participated in many of the social reform movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although members of southern unions were less reform-minded than some of their northern sisters, the Georgia WCTU did work toward reform in a number of areas including municipal and sanitary improvements, the rehabilitation of prostitutes, and the abolition of the convict lease system. In the area of prison reform, the Georgia women also advocated the establishment of separate facilities for women and juvenile offenders. They urged Georgia legislators to build an industrial school for girls, to pass child labor laws, and to provide for compulsory education.

The woman's suffrage movement, which the national Woman's Christian Temperance Union supported, created problems for the southern unions. In the 1890s the Georgia union nearly collapsed when the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, led by Bishop Warren A. Candler, withdrew its support because the national WCTU had adopted woman suffrage as part of its platform. In the face of bitter opposition, the Georgia union leaders had to make clear the state organizations' independence from the national body in choosing what programs it would follow. Additionally, they announced that support of woman's suffrage would detract from their primary mission and that they would not adopt the national union's position. The issue continued to trouble the Georgia union, and when efforts to vote prohibition met defeat after defeat, some union leaders in Georgia began to advocate the vote for women as the only way to succeed at the polls.

From the beginning, education and legislation constituted the two main thrusts of WCTU work in Georgia. The Georgia union reached a major goal when, in 1901, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill requiring the public schools to teach what the WCTU called "scientific temperance instruction" incorporating the effects of alcohol and drugs on the human body. A second milestone was passed when statewide prohibition went into effect in 1907. Thereafter, the Georgia union pursued similar goals in providing education about the evils of alcohol and in attaining legal prohibition.

After the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the struggle to survive sometimes became one of the organization's primary goals. Between 1928 and 1937 membership in the Georgia union fell from 7,284 to 3,784. National organizers visited the state regularly over the next three decades to establish new local unions and to revive failing ones. Despite these efforts, membership campaigns, and constant reminders to local unions to "hold fast," the organization slowly faded as its leaders grew older with few young leaders to step in to carry on the mission.

A board of officers elected at the annual state convention each October governed the Georgia WCTU. The annual meetings met in various locations around the state. The offices of president and of corresponding secretary were the most powerful; other offices such as vice president, treasurer and recording secretary were less important and sometimes remained unfilled. Depending upon what national programs the state union adopted, the president could appoint superintendents over departments that focused on particular issues. Frequently, however, the president doubled as department superintendent in one or more areas. Local unions in cities, towns, and counties were organized according to ten districts that corresponded to congressional districts. Although district presidents theoretically headed these geographical units, these posts often remained unfilled as well.

The relationships between the local, state, and national levels of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union were fairly fluid. Only the total abstinence pledge tied lower unions to the parent bodies. Other connections depended upon the voluntary cooperation of the lower unions. The national organization frequently helped establish and strengthen state and local bodies. In Georgia, the first union was founded as a result of a visit by a national speaker. Thereafter, and particularly in the early years, the national WCTU sent organizers and lecturers into the state to foster expansion.

Another way the national WCTU influenced the state and local unions was by establishing program goals. Departments, organized to work in certain areas of emphasis and headed by superintendents, developed program material for the state and local unions to use in pursuit of specific goals. However, no union at either the state or local level was required to adopt any particular goal.

The organization and focus of the Georgia WCTU and its relationship to the national body remains consistent while the union's strength ebbs and flows according to the currency of particular issues. In 1982 the Georgia union moved out of the building on North Highland Avenue in Atlanta to new quarters in Union City, Georgia, to continue its work. Information in this brief administrative history was drawn from Mrs. J.J. Ansley's History of the Georgia WCTU, 1883-1907, (Columbus, GA, 1914) and Ruth Bordin's Woman and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty, 1873-1900 (Philadelphia, 1981) as well as from unpublished materials in the collection.


28.75 linear feet (58 boxes) (6 oversized papers boxes and 1 oversized papers folder (OP); AV Masters: .25 linear feet (1 box, CLP))


Records of Georgia Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1888-1982.

Arrangement Note

Organized into eleven series: (1) Correspondence, (2) Reports and minutes, (3) Financial and membership records, (4) Program material, (5) Printed material, (6) Youth Temperance Council records, (7) Loyal Temperance Legion records, (8) National WCTU records, (9) Other WCTU organizations, (10) Collected material, and (11) Photographs and memorabilia.


Gift, 1982.

Related Materials in Other Repositories

Rebecca Latimer Felton papers, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia.


Control level 3


File name: gwctu647.doc


Processed by Lee Sayrs, Associate Processing Archivist, September 1987.

Control level 3

File name: gwctu647.doc

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Georgia Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records, 1888-1982
Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
June 9, 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library Repository

540 Asbury Circle
Atlanta Georgia 30322 United States