In October 1883 at the 10th annual WCTU convention held in Detroit, Willard closed her annual address with this recommendation:
“Finally, dear sisters, let me present to you a plan which is the outgrowth of my special studies in
this most eventful year.... I visited the opium dens of San Francisco and was appalled by the
degradation resulting from a poison habit that curses the victim more, but his home less, than does
the frenzy of the alcohol dream. Meanwhile missionaries to the Orient assured me that since the
Crusade a great temperance work is going on in the cities of India, China and Japan, among the
English-speaking population, and letters from our Connecticut president, Mrs. Treadwell, now
traveling upon the continent of Europe, assure me that leading pastors of Paris are anxious to have a
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union organized in that metropolis of the whole world. I knew our
British cousins across the line and across the sea would heartily cooperate in the movement, and
so resolved to urge my sisters to signalize the epoch we rejoice in by the formation of an
International Woman’s Christian Temperance Union that shall belt the globe and join East and West
in an organized attack upon the poison habits of both hemispheres. We can do no more at this convention than to authorize the initial steps of such a movement. For a year or two the work must be wholly carried on by correspondence and through the press. Few have as yet the international spirit.... I suggest little more today than that the prestige of our great society be the fulcrum for a preliminary lift in this splendid enterprise.”
Soon after, Frances Willard wrote the Polyglot Petition, the first world-wide request made to world leaders to take a stand against the alcohol traffic and opium trade. The Petition was circulated by Mary Clement Leavitt who accepted the challenge to be the first round-the-world WWCTU missionary. She began with a visit to the Sandwich Islands, Hawaii and went on to Australia, India, China and Japan. She carried the Polyglot Petition and organized WCTUs. In seven years of travel Leavitt logged 97,308 miles, formed 6,623 Local Unions (WCTUs), and talked in 47 languages through 228 interpreters. Over 7,500,000 men and women from 50 countries, and in 49 languages, signed the Polyglot Petition.
Pictured on the left is Lady Henry Somerset of England with Frances Willard and the Petition.
This mammoth petition made its first public appearance at the first convention of the World’s WCTU in Boston in 1891. It was festooned about the entire hall and large rolls of it stood upon the platform. At the second WWCTU Convention, held in Chicago in 1893, the petition had a place of honor, and a section was taken across the Atlantic ocean for the third convention in London, in 1895. In Toronto, in 1897, it was also a prominent feature of the decorations. However, the immense cost of transportation made it impossible to continue taking it to conventions, but in Boston, October 17-21, 1906, a section of the famous petition was again on exhibition.
Devoted women followed in Leavitt’s footsteps. Jessie Ackermann, the second round-the-world-missionary, received her appointment at the 1888 convention, held in New York City. She worked chiefly in Australia, although visiting many other countries of the Orient. Dr. Kate Bushnell and Elizabeth Wheeler Andrew received their appointment in 1890 and worked chiefly in India, where they did magnificent service in the line of social purity. Alice R. Palmer, appointed in 1891, went immediately to South Africa, where she worked for two years.
Margaret Bright Lucas of England was appointed the first World WCTU President in 1884, but died in 1890. At the first World Convention that was held November 11, 1891 in Boston, Massachusetts (USA) Frances Willard was elected to serve as the Second World WCTU President. Fourteen countries were represented: Great Britain by eight delegates; Canada by seven, Hawaiian Islands, Japan and Cape Colony, two each; Siam, Burma, India, France, Newfoundland, Spain, Italy, Syria and Ceylon, one each. The number of delegates from the United States is not reported.
While only 13 affiliated countries were represented by delegates at the second WWCTU convention in Chicago in 1893, forty were reported by the secretary. The same General Officers were reelected, reports were given from five white ribbon missionaries, and some slight changes were made in the constitution, the most important being the change in the affiliation fee from one-half cent to one cent per member. The third convention was held in London, England, in 1895. Twenty-two countries were represented by delegates. The fourth convention in 1897 was held in Toronto, Canada with 22 countries represented. The WWCTU constitution was amended to include the words “without distinction of race or color.” The fifth convention was held in 1900 in Edinburgh, Scotland where 35 counties made reports of work accomplished. The WWCTU was well on its way.
At the sixth convention in Geneva, in 1903, the title of the foreign workers was changed to “World’s White Ribbon Missionaries,” and, at that same convention, nine were appointed:
J. K. Barney, Addie Northam Fields, and Kara Smart, USA;
Harrison Lee and Cummins and Vincent, Australia;
Ethel Beedham and Christine Tinling, England;
and Olafia Johannsdottir, Iceland.
The WWCTU has proposed, supported and helped establish:
- protection of women and children at home and at work
- women’s right to vote for world peace
The WWCTU has opposed and worked against:
- the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs
- the drug traffic
- human trafficking
- violence against women
- child labor
The WWCTU was a founding member of the International Council of Women in 1893. The WWCTU is a charter member (1945) of the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations. For more than 125 years, the WCTU has trained women to think on their feet, speak in public, and run an organization.