By Elizabeth Schmidt – Loyola University Chicago, Masters in Public History Program, Fall 2019.
The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) set its sights on two objectives: the prohibition of alcohol and the vote for women. The woman leading this charge was Illinois’ Frances Willard. Willard was the president of WCTU for nineteen years and was a ferocious leader of both the campaign to prohibit alcohol (the temperance movement) and the women’s suffrage movement. [i] For decades, women across the country fought for these issues to no avail. In 1877 Willard drafted a new means of persuasion that linked the two issues and formed an important step on the road to women’s suffrage: The Home Protection Ballot.
A key concept to consider for understanding the Home Protection Ballot is the gender roles of the time. Many people believed that men and women had specific roles to fill to make the republic successful. For men, this was controlling the public sphere by voting, serving in government, and contributing to the economy. Women were relegated to the private sphere where they raised their sons to be upstanding future citizens and leaders. Known as Republican Motherhood, this approach to women’s societal engagement meant that women should serve the republic through the protection and education of their children. As a result, any public political actions by women were not only seen as abnormal but were treated with hostility. [ii] Therefore, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union received opposition because they were stepping out of the private and into the public sphere.
Temperance was an important issue in the nineteenth century and many different organizations advocated for temperance including not only the WCTU but also the Anti-Saloon League and the Prohibition Party. These groups argued that the Bible condemned drunkenness and that alcohol caused reckless and harmful behavior. [iii] If a man was an alcoholic, he could threatened his family’s well-being by being abusive and by jeopardizing the household income through losing his job and squandering the family’s income. Alcohol abuse was used to explain the poor conditions of the working class. Willard instructed the WCTU to seek out young women to distribute books and establish temperance reading rooms in the community, as it was the woman’s role to protect the family from alcohol.
With the Home Protection Ballot, Frances Willard argued that because it was the woman’s duty to protect her home, women should be able to vote on the distribution of liquor licenses in their communities. To soften the opposition, she maintained that the Home Protection Ballot would not be the first step to suffrage but purely a means to protect the family. [iv] In 1879, Willard published the Home Protection Manual, a pamphlet laying out her argument and her future plans for enacting the Home Protection Ballot. In this pamphlet she makes the intentions of the ballot clear:
“Home Protection is the general name given to a movement already endorsed by the W.C.T Unions of the eight states, the object of which is to secure all women above the age of twenty-one the ballot as one means for the protection of their homes from the devastation caused by the legalized traffic in strong drink.”[v]
An amendment to the state constitution was required in order to put the Home Protection Ballot in action in Illinois. With the assistance of a local Illinois attorney, Willard and the WCTU drafted a bill that would give men and women over the age of twenty-one the right to approve liquor licenses of saloons hoping to open in their community. Representative Andrew Hinds introduced what came to be known as the Hinds Bill in the Illinois legislature. It generated months of debate, but in the summer of 1879, the Hinds Bill was defeated fifty-three to fifty-five. [vi] Willard continued to advocate for Home Protection bills in other states, but they did not find success either.
The fight for women’s suffrage did not end with the defeat of the Home Protection Ballot. In 1919, the 19th amendment passed in the United States Senate and in 1920 it had been ratified by enough states to become the law. (It was not until 1986 that the last state ratified the 19th amendment.) Also in 1919, prohibition became law, although it was repealed fourteen years later. Frances Willard, however, did not get to see the policies she fought for enacted as she died in February of 1898.
The Home Protection Ballot represented a response to nineteenth century gender roles and a sign of the change to come. Willard’s Home Protection Ballot remains a milestone on the road to women’s suffrage.
Willard, Frances E. “Home Protection Manual: Containing an Argument for the Temperance Ballot for Woman and How to Obtain It, as a Means of Home Protection.” Broadway, NY: The Independent, 1979.
Blumenfeld, Leah Hutton, PhD. “Republican Womanhood: Then and Now.” Gender Forum no. 61 (2017): 3-4A. http://flagship.luc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.flagship.luc.edu/docview/1877249008?accountid=12163.
McWilliams, Mary B. “A Duty Or A Right: The Illinois Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Woman Suffrage.” A Duty Or A Right: The Illinois Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Woman Suffrage. Chicago, 2014.
Stivers, Camilla. “Settlement Women and Bureau Men: Constructing a Usable past for Public Administration.” Public Administration Review 55, no. 6 (1995): 522-529. Webb, Holland. “Temperance Movements and Prohibition.” International Social Science Review 74, no. 1/2 (1999): 61-69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41882294.
[i] Mary B McWilliams, “A Duty Or A Right: The Illinois Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Woman Suffrage,” (2014), 4.
[ii] Leah Hutton Blumenfeld. “Republican Womanhood: Then and Now.” Gender Forum no. 61 (2017), 11. http://flagship.luc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.flagship.luc.edu/docview/1877249008?accountid=12163
[iii] McWilliams, 2.
[iv] Frances E Willard, “Home Protection Manual: Containing an Argument for the Temperance Ballot for Woman and How to Obtain It, as a Means of Home Protection.,” Broadway, NY: The Independent, 1979, 31.
[vi] Willard, 31.