|The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was organized in 1874 by women who were concerned about the problems alcohol was causing their families and society. The members chose total abstinence from all alcohol as their life style and protection of the home as their watchword.
In many towns in Ohio and New York in the fall of 1873 women concerned about the destructive power of alcohol met in churches to pray and then marched to the saloons to ask the owners to close their establishments. They met with success but it was only temporary so by the next summer the women concluded that they must become organized nationally. This led to the founding of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Cleveland, Ohio in November of 1874—the oldest continuing non-sectarian woman's organization in the world.
Through education and example the WCTU hoped to obtain pledges of total abstinence from alcohol, and later also tobacco and other drugs. The white ribbon bow was selected to symbolize purity, and the WCTU's watchwords were "Agitate - Educate - Legislate."
Mary Frazier Reed sent in this anecdote from her great-grandfather, Martin Byrd: "The ladies of Anamosa (my mother being one of the number) took their little axes, went into the saloons and did the Carry Nation act on jugs and whiskey barrels. They were the saloons licensed to sell beer and wine, but like they would do now if permitted to sell light drinks, they all sold whiskey, but the ladies spoiled serveral hundred gallons. A barrel was worth eight or ten dollars then, very little more than a quart of bootleg sells for now. I saw many a pint sell for ten cents and what a lot of drunks in the good old days. May we never see it again."
The WCTU still exists and you can visit their website at http://www.wctu.org/.