Women's Temperance Union (courtesy of Conwy Archive Service)

Temperance

Many Welsh women campaigned against the demon drink, blaming it for many social and moral ills in the 19th century.

After the publication of the Blue Books in 1847, chapels and community elders sought to uphold morals and defend the image of Welsh people. The negative effects of alcohol were seen as eroding this respectability. The exploits of unmarried women were heavily policed.

Alcohol was seen as a drain on the already-limited finances of the working class. Children of alcoholic fathers went hungry when the wages were spent in the pub. This erosion of family life and rise in poverty led to the promotion of temperance - a complete abstinence from alcohol. It was promoted by women keen to see change and uphold morals, as well as making sure their voices were heard among men's.

The North Wales Women's Temperance Union was set up in Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1892. Branches sprang up all over north Wales, and later, in the south. These meetings were chaired and led by women who would protest in pubs and on the streets against drinking.

It was Sarah Jane Rees (bardic name Cranogwen) who set up the Women's Temperance Union, in south Wales, in 1901. She was a determined woman who had won first prize for her poetry at the National Eisteddfod. She also learned to sail and gained a Board of Trade certificate as a ship's master.

Cranogwen was concerned with the welfare of ordinary working women in Wales, many of whom were victims of domestic violence fuelled by drink. Following her death in 1916, a refuge for homeless women and girls in the Rhondda was established in her memory.

The passing of the Sunday Closing Act (1881) meant public houses were forced to close on the Sabbath. People involved in nonconformist religion were especially active in the temperance movement and promoting the alcohol-free way of life. It's estimated that, by 1900, one in 10 of the British adult population was teetotal.

The taste for campaigning, and the confidence to change the world in which they lived, gave many women involved in the temperance movement the impetus to face another, bigger challenge - votes for women.


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