In League Against King Alcohol
Native American Women and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 1874–1933
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
Many Americans are familiar with the real, but repeatedly stereotyped problem of alcohol abuse in Indian country. Most know about the Prohibition Era and reformers who promoted passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, among them the members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. But few people are aware of how American Indian women joined forces with the WCTU to press for positive change in their communities, a critical chapter of American cultural history explored in depth for the first time in In League Against King Alcohol.
Drawing on the WCTU’s national records as well as state and regional organizational newspaper accounts and official state histories, historian Thomas John Lappas unearths the story of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Indian country. His work reveals how Native American women in the organization embraced a type of social, economic, and political progress that their white counterparts supported and recognized—while maintaining distinctly Native elements of sovereignty, self-determination, and cultural preservation. They asserted their identities as Indigenous women, albeit as Christian and progressive Indigenous women. At the same time, through their mutual participation, white WCTU members formed conceptions about Native people that they subsequently brought to bear on state and local Indian policy pertaining to alcohol, but also on education, citizenship, voting rights, and land use and ownership.
Lappas’s work places Native women at the center of the temperance story, showing how they used a women’s national reform organization to move their own goals and objectives forward. Subtly but significantly, they altered the welfare and status of American Indian communities in the early twentieth century.
“Drawing on extensive research, including the use of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union state archival sources from across the country, Thomas J. Lappas traces the history of the organization’s Department of Work Among Indians. Using Indigenous women’s own words, he explores why they became members and describes their efforts to confront alcoholism. This volume is a welcomed addition to both Native American studies and gender studies.”—Valerie Sherer Mathes, author of Divinely Guided: The California Work of the Women’s National Indian Association
“This book makes a strong contribution to the historiography of temperance and women’s networks, but also to the history of Native American women, particularly in Indian Country.”—Southwestern Historical Quarterly
“Not only does Lappas’s research reveal a greater diversity within reform movements, it also highlights a unique form of Native activism that involved Native American women rallying behind causes such as U.S. citizenship, Euro-American–style education, Christianity, and other causes to serve their temperance goals.” – The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
"This important book dispels stereotypes of both the wctu and Native American women. Lappas offers a nuanced assessment of citizenship, allotment, and acculturation, and his work helps us better understand the mixed legacy of wctu work among Native Americans."—Journal of American History