“Black women of the WCTU: A Research Database Project”

Black women header

WCTU leaders. Left to right: Amanda Berry Smith, Lucy Thurman, Frances E. W. Harper, Sarah Early, Rosetta Lawson. Images from WCTU Archives

An online research database to document Black women’s involvement in the WCTU, ca 1874-1965  

A Project of the Frances Willard House Museum and WCTU Archives

Project Description  

Building on the success of our digital project, Truth-Telling, which examines in depth the conflict between Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells, the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives has recently begun a new project, “Black Women of the WCTU: A Research Database,” to document the lives and work of the many Black women who have been involved in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Founded in 1874, the WCTU was at one time the largest women’s organization in the U.S. Black women have been active participants in the WCTU since the 1880s as members, as leaders at the local and national level, and as critics as well as supporters. Meanwhile, these women were also involved in suffrage, in their churches, in education, and in organizations such as the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC). A few are well-known—including F.E.W. Harper and Lucy Thurman–but there were so many more. As the lives of less well-known women activists began to be uncovered during the Suffrage Centenary and through BLM activism, the role of Black women within the WCTU remains unexplored—until now.  

Our long-range goal is ambitious: to gather specific data (names and locations) from WCTU and collateral sources for every state in the US, using volunteers for onsite and crowdsourced gathering. The Frances Willard House Museum & Archives holds information on Black women’s activism in extensive records that we are mining. We are also searching outside sources (many digitized, including historical newspapers, census records) to amplify the dataset, and seeking other collections of WCTU materials to fill in gaps in our records. Although we will include some contextualization (bibliographies, etc.), we see this project as a research resource, rather than a site of storytelling and analysis.  The deliverables for the new project include a database of individuals’ names and of Union locations. In short, we seek to create the materials with which historians and scholars, especially those with interest in the digital humanities, can develop and expand the story of these interconnected women’s networks, bringing new information to the history of Black women in the US.

On this page, we will add links to reports and documents that describe our progress as we pursue this long-term project. We will be glad to provide additional information about this project, and we welcome suggestions and ideas from our colleagues and researchers across the US.

Janet Olson, Archivist, WCTU Archives Lori Osborne, Museum Director, Frances Willard House Museum

Summer 2022 Report, added October 7, 2022

This report mainly documents the goals, processes, and results of our Summer 2022 projects, known as Pilot Project #3, but it begins with a summary of the two initial pilot projects, undertaken in Spring/summer 2021 and spring 2022. In describing Pilot project #3, we have gone into detail about the summer’s work, including the results but also explaining the goals in detail, and providing a number of appendices to illustrate and describe the work done. Take a look in particular at the spreadsheet excerpts, visualizations, and demographics shown in Appendices 1-3.