Early Prohibition and the The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Fort Collins

In the late nineteenth century, women across the United States were fighting for prohibition. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was one of the most influential nationwide organizations pushing to ban alcohol. In August of 1880, several local influential local women in Fort Collins, Colorado established a chapter of the WCTU.

Prohibition began in Fort Collins in 1896, over twenty years before the 21st Amendment was passed. According to first-hand accounts gathered by Fort Collins historian Ansel Watrous, Fort Collins was a wide open town “full of idle and vicious men, driftwood from railroad and ditch camps, irresponsible creatures, without home or friends who hung about the saloons and brothels" prior to prohibition. Women founded the WCTU to combat such perceived characteristics of the northern Colorado town. The passage of women's suffrage in 1893 in Colorado fueled aided the WCTU formation and quest to permanently end the sale of liquor in the state. This movement provided women in Fort Collins (and elsewhere) an early chance to influence their community and participate in public politics.

The meetings of the WCTU, according to an issue of the Fort Collins Courier published on August 9, 1894, were held at a variety of locations including churches and the Fort Collins Opera House on College Avenue; however, the majority of the meetings were held in the intimate confines of important members’ homes and parlors. One such home was the residence of Mrs. Lucy McIntyre. Lucy McIntyre was one of the founders of the WCTU of Fort Collins and Watrous described her as “devoted to the work of uplifting humanity.” Mrs. McIntyre and other members of the WCTU felt that the abolition of alcohol would improve the quality of life in Fort Collins. As Emily Abbot, a prominent member of the local WCTU described it, the members feared that “one-third of the men of this community are surely traveling the road that leads to destruction of mind, of body, and of soul...manhood destroyed, intellect in ruins, families made miserable.” At their meetings, the women discussed temperance literature and promoted prohibitionist ideas. For example, at one meeting Mrs. McIntyre provided figures that she claimed plainly proved “how much better it is to govern a city according to the ‘Good Old Book’.”

The women had their first success in April 1884, when the town passed an anti-liquor ordinance. This ordinance, however, was repealed a year later and the city returned to a high license fee ordinance. . In 1895, Ordinance No. 8 passed and reads: “it is unlawful for any person or persons…to sell or give away intoxicating malts, vinous, mixed, fermented or spirituous liquors within the corporate limits of the City of Fort Collins.” The city of Fort Collins remained a dry town until 1969.

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