Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover has an advertisement for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria with a Colonial emblem of an assortment of mimosa, fern and two other plants, and the headquarter’s address of 138 & 140 Flinders Street, Melbourne. It has the pink Victorian ½d and lilac 2d stamps, and is postmarked MELBOURNE/ 17 ( )/ MY 6/ 98. It is addressed to Worcester, Mass U.S.A. (Figure 1).

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Australasia (later renamed the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Australia) was formed in May 1891 at a meeting held in Melbourne for the purpose of federating the existing Colonial Unions. This was probably the first interstate gathering of women’s organisations held in Australia. The first branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had been formed in Sydney in 1885.

Although the primary objective of the organisation is the prohibition of, &/or individual abstinence from alcohol, the Union has been involved in a broad range of social and political reform activities. It was particularly active in the campaign for women’s suffrage in Australia from the 1880s, and the National Union included a Suffrage Department from its inception. The National Union functions as a coordinating body for the various State Unions, and sends representatives to international gatherings of the World’s Women Christian Temperance Union.

The growth of the WCTU in Australia was influenced by visit of Mary Leavitt, the first world missionary of the American Union, who arrived in Australia in 1885 and set about forming local branches. During her visit, she formed branches in Queensland, N.S.W., South Australia and in Tasmania. Although not all thrived, the movement was reinvigorated by visits from the second world missionary, Jessie Ackerman, in 1889 and 1890s. Jessie Ackerman particularly ensured that women’s suffrage was high on the agenda in the early activities of the Australian Union.

Although a conservative organisation which promoted ‘traditional’ family values and roles for women, the Union was also a progressive force in many ways. Under its broader agenda of ‘home protection’ and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, and in its belief that the dangers of alcohol could not be tackled in isolation, the WCTU pursued a wide-ranging reform agenda mostly relating to the welfare of women and children. The Union became a major supporter of the campaign for women’s suffrage in Australia as it was believed that power at the ballot box was the only way to achieve their goals. It was also an early advocate of equal pay.

By 1900, the Constitution of the National Union clearly outlined how these issues were intertwined for the Union: ‘We believe in total abstinence for the individual, prohibition for the state and nation, equal standard of purity for men and women, equal wages for equal work without regard to sex, the ballot in the hands of women, arbitration between nations … [the] Holy Bible as our standard faith.’ The Union encouraged women to take on an active role in public life. WCTU members generally were middle and lower middle class women, many from non-conformist churches, usually respectable married women with children. While at its most influential in the years up to WWI, the movement continues today.

Acknowledgment: This paper excerpted from:

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