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2008/231/1 Banners (12), honour boards (3), photographs (6), trophies (6), badges (22), medallions and other material, wood / fabric / metal, various makers, used by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of New South Wales, Australia, 1882-1990. Click to enlarge.

Collection from the NSW Women's Christian Temperance Union

  • 1882-1990
The Women's Christian Temperance Union was crucial in introducing women to political life. In the 1800s women's public role was largely restricted to churches and charities. Under the leadership of Frances Willard, the WCTU was successful in making political organisation an essential means of achieving religious and moral goals. The WCTU's motto 'For God, Home and Humanity' dissolved the distinction between public and domestic life. The organisation was thus able to draw on the numerical and organisational strength of Protestant congregations. It is not coincidental that the WCTU was most prominent in Australia and the USA, societies where Catholicism was a minority religion and with strong traditions of evangelical Protestantism.

In recent decades the WCTU has been 'rediscovered' by historians, and its success on behalf of women's causes given due recognition. However it is also recognised that, although the WCTU was a distinctly feminist organisation, it struggled to transcend its home and family focus and develop policies relevant to women in paid work or living in more complex social situations.

Early hotel closing, the WCTU's major temperance achievement, had a profound effect on Australian social and political life for much of the twentieth century. According to a survey commissioned during the 1950s by the Australian Hotels Association, a majority of NSW women were effectively teetotal, while only a small minority risked their reputations by drinking in public. However early closing also hardened the social divisions between men and women, divorcing public drinking from food, women, entertainment and other 'civilising' influences. It also produced a flourishing black market in liquor and widespread corruption of police and other officials.

However the WCTU can point to the fact that, after a few decades of liberal licensing laws, excessive drinking and its consequences are again a political and social issue. Like gambling it remains an intractable issue, although a less specifically feminist one than in earlier times.

The Powerhouse Museum holds a large collection of brewing and hotel artefacts. Given that the history of these industries has been substantially shaped by the licensing laws, it is appropriate that the Museum also holds a collection documenting the major NSW temperance organisation. In addition, the WCTU collection is a valuable record of a major voluntary organisation and its media of communication, notably its outstanding collection of banners.

Charles Pickett, Curator, 2008


Object No.


Object Statement

Banners (12), honour boards (3), photographs (6), trophies (6), badges (22), medallions and other material, wood / fabric / metal, various makers, used by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of New South Wales, Australia, 1882-1990

Physical Description

Banners (12), honour boards (3), photographs (6), trophies (6), badges, medallions and other material, wood / fabric / metal, various makers, used by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of New South Wales, Australia, 1882-1990

Collection of artefacts from the former office of the WCTU at 110 Sussex Street, Sydney. The objects are described in groups below.

Twelve banners, most with royal blue background, gold edging (usually tasselled) and gold or white lettering (painted or sown). Most include depictions of flannel flowers, the floral emblem of the WCTU. The banners date from 1882 to 1982, the latter a centenary banner bearing the names of WCTU office-bearers. Most were produced by suburban chapters of the WCTU including Mosman, Chatswood, Austinmer, Lidcombe, Manly, 'Wahroonga to Hornsby' and Parramatta.

Six photographs, including a framed hand-coloured portrait of Frances Willard, a mounted photograph of 'Lady Davidson opening the Frances Willard Hostel for Girls' (at Newtown, Sydney) and a small framed photograph of 'Everyman's representative in South Vietnam distributing Fruit Cocktail made available by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union'.

Six silver-plated trophies, including the 'Doris Gray Challenge Bell for Youth Work' and the 'Isabel K Corkindale MBE Social Freedom Award'.

Two small shields bearing medallions for the 'Bowes Efficiency Shield' and the 'Evelyn Strong Membership Shield'.

Three stained and painted timber honour boards recording WCTU presidents and donors.

Three small boxes of membership and campaign badges.

One stained timber money box and key 'WCTU Honour Box'.

Also printing plates for leaflet material, name plates, a chart and a poster



  • 1882-1990


The banners, honour boards, photographs, trophies and badges were made by various makers between 1882 and 1990.



The Woman's Christian Temperance Union was founded in 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. The organisation is dedicated to eliminating the consumption of alcohol. However in 1879 Frances Willard (1839-1898) became the WCTU's national president, and broadened the organisation's aims beyond temperance to include prison reform, the 'moral reform' of prostitutes, child welfare and, most significantly, women's suffrage.

A charismatic speaker and gifted organiser, Willard transformed the US temperance movement into the first major political movement devoted to women's causes. Willard also became an international celebrity. Her influence and example were crucial in the establishment of Australian branches of the WCTU. The first of these was the NSW union, formed at the Temperance Hall, Pitt Street in 1882. Although a temperance movement had been active in Australia since 1835 when the Total Abstinence Society was formed, it was primarily focused on securing individual pledges and conversions. Following the US example of political lobbying and public campaigns, the WCTU of NSW had success in reforming the liquor licensing laws and in 1891 was instrumental in having the first bill for women's suffrage introduced into the NSW Parliament. In 1902 NSW women were among the first in the world to gain the right to vote.

The WCTU was attracted to the suffrage cause largely due to its potential in achieving temperance aims. In the decade following 1902, women voters altered the established terrain of politics, supporting 'wowser' laws which restricted the sale of alcohol, gambling and sex. The high point of the WCTU's influence was the introduction of six o'clock hotel closing in 1916 and its defence of this measure until 1955. As late as 1947, a referendum for later closing was defeated, due in large part to women's votes and WCTU campaigning. Unlike its US counterpart, the NSW WCTU was unable to achieve its goal of total prohibition, despite a 1928 referendum on the issue.

As well as suffrage and temperance-related issues, the WCTU of NSW was active in a wide variety of campaigns and charities, including women's hostels, hospitals and baby health centres. In recent years its membership has declined considerably, despite renewed public focus on issues surrounding drinking and gambling. However the WCTU holds considerable property assets, and in 2008 re-launched itself as a foundation rather than as a volunteer-run union.

Charles Pickett, curator.


Credit Line

Gift of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union Foundation, 2008

Acquisition Date

15 December 2008

Cite this Object


Collection from the NSW Women's Christian Temperance Union 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 16 April 2021, <https://ma.as/386111>


{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/386111 |title=Collection from the NSW Women's Christian Temperance Union |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=16 April 2021 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}