Perspectives

Rural Women Have Started and Led Monumental Women’s Movements


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Until about 1920, rural women in the United States outnumbered urban women and they were the genesis of many historic women’s movement initiatives.
For example, rural women took the lead in temperance, women’s suffrage and gaining educational opportunities for women, according to Dr. Katherine Jellison, the Chairwoman of the History Department at Ohio University.
Dr. Jellison also is co-chair of the national Rural Women’s Studies Association whose purpose is to “improve the visibility of rural women’s studies research and activism around the world.”
Dr. Jellison describes to the Spectrum Podcast about how rural women in the Midwest founded the Women’s Christian Temperance Union the (WCTU) in the late 19th century to fight alcohol, alcohol sales and alcohol abuse.
The movement grew out of the concept that women were the protectors of the home and children and therefore, needed to curb alcohol abuse – especially among men. Women needed to protect the family from abuse, from the male wasting their limited money on alcohol and gambling and from other “immoral” and destructive behaviors.
The first WCTU group was organized in rural Hillsborough, Ohio (Highland County) in 1873. It was officially recognized in Cleveland, Ohio in 1874.
As rural women fought to advance the temperance movement, they realized they needed laws to curtail drink in addition to moral persuasion.
Therefore, according to Dr. Jellison, these women started the women’s suffrage movement to gain the right to elect representatives who reflected their beliefs in curbing access to alcohol.
The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919 and officially ratified on August 18, 1920.
In addition to its stands against alcohol and the push for women’s suffrage, the WCTU lobbied against child labor and in favor of opening educational opportunities for women.