Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Woman's Christian Temperance Union
by Paul Tutwiler

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union — the WCTU — in general

Launched in Chautauqua, New York in 1874, this organization of women activists — the WCTU — rejects alcoholic drinks of all kinds and champions women's rights. The WCTU has never been identified with any particular religious group, but is generically Protestant. It had established local unions throughout the United States by 1883, and although it is not now as prominent as it was 100 years ago, the WCTU is still a nationwide organization. Its publishing house, the Signal Press, and its central library and archives are in Evanston, Illinois. ( 2008)

In California the WCTU was organized in 1879. (Eldon G. Ernst, Pilgrim Progression, p. 75) In 2008 its organizational focus closest to Santa Cruz is in Los Angeles. ( 2008)

The local unions in California organized into county units but for practical reasons a unit could cover more than one county. Thus,

The success of a Tri-County Union, — Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey — having been so organized originally, when neither county could sustain its work alone, suggested Bi-County organizations where a weak county might be united to its neighbor, until such a time as it became strong enough for independence. Yuba and Sutter were the first counties to form such a Union, in 1891..." (Dorcas James Spencer, A History of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Northern and Central California, p. 54)

In Santa Cruz County

The first WCTU union in the County was established in Santa Cruz City in 1883. A union in Watsonville followed in 1884. Then came Highland, 1888; Boulder Creek, 1892; Corralitos, 1894; Soquel, 1923; East Santa Cruz, 1926; and Aromas, 1936. Some of these unions lasted many years, some did not, but as many as seven of them existed at one time. The number of dues paying members according to the Annual Reports was 184 in 1921, 539 in 1930, 283 in 1940, 245 in 1954, and 179 in 1962-1963. (The count for 1921 is from the Directory and Hand Book of the Tri-County Woman's Christian Temperance Union, December, 1921.)

That the Santa Cruz County unions had some prominence is shown by the fact that the [Northern] California Annual Convention was held in the county eight times between 1902 and 1973. (Annual Reports) One national WCTU officer, Mrs. E. G. Greene, the organization's National Superintendent of Kindergarten Work, was living in Santa Cruz in 1885. (Union Signal, Oct. 22, 1885)

The general history of the WCTU's early years in California names, in addition to temperance meetings and the like, seven types of activity in which local unions could engage. (Spencer, A History, pp. 106-153) These activities were, roughly in order of frequency:

Reading rooms — Hollister's, opened in 1884, was one of the first. (Spencer, A History, p. 120)

Horse watering troughs placed near saloons — "The towns did not provide what the saloon was glad to furnish, and the teamster who did not patronize the bar in recognition of the accommodation, was likely to be advised to go on and water his horses somewhere else. In town or country the custom was the same. The unions took up that work early and must have set up miles of watering troughs throughout the state." (Spencer, A History, p. 153)

Coffee houses — "every Coffee House had its reading room." (Spencer, A History, p. 120)

Erection of Water fountains in public places, such as parks. (Spencer, A History, p. 153)

Young Woman's Christian Temperance Unions (girls). (Spencer, A History, p. 106)

Cadets of Temperance (boys) (Spencer, A History, p. 106) "In Oakland a military man is employed that the drill may be most thorough." (Union Signal, March 20, 1884)

Erection of Headquarter buildings — notable ones in California were in Stockton and Boulder Creek. (Spencer, A History, p. 150)

Santa Cruz County's unions participated in at least six of these activities. I have not found evidence of coffee houses among them.

A general WCTU endeavor which was represented in Santa Cruz from 1886 to 1899 by the presence of Mrs. E. G. Greene was the kindergarten movement in the United States. Mrs. Greene, the National Superintendent of Kindergarten Work, applied the child development methods of the founder of the Kindergarten, Friedrich Froebel, maintaining that the WCTU was eminently suitable for launching and sustaining kindergartens. Under Mrs. Greene's leadership the WCTU established a kindergarten in Santa Cruz, which by 1896 had become part of the public school system. (Francis, Santa Cruz County, p. 155) About that time, in fact, kindergartens were becoming part of public school systems, and by 1924 the WCTU no longer had a Kindergarten Department. (For more on Mrs. Greene see "Santa Cruz W.C.T.U. and the Kindergarten Movement," under "Churches & Spiritual Organizations" in

Santa Cruz Union. 1883-1984

Frances Willard, second National President of the WCTU, founded the Santa Cruz Union in 1883. (Union Signal, Dec. 20, 1883) Other details from the Union Signal of that year are that Willard visited Santa Cruz on April 25, 1883 while on an organizing tour in California, (Apr. 26, 1883) and that by December the Santa Cruz Union had 75 members. (Dec. 20, 1883)

From its early years the Santa Cruz union organized youth. Its Cadets of Temperance, or Cadets in Blue, as they were also called, were being "drilled for future action... Santa Cruz reports a large number of boys drilling enthusiastically." (Union Signal, Mar. 20, 1884) The first Young Woman's Christian Temperance Union in northern California had been organized in East Oakland in 1884, and Santa Cruz's was organized in 1886. (Spencer, History, p. 106)

The Northern California WCTU Annual Convention was held in Santa Cruz in 1902 and 1913, (Annual Report, 1925) in 1927, (Annual Report, 1930) and in 1948, 1955, 1969, and 1973. (Annual Report, 1981)

Some third person reports regarding the Santa Cruz Union and its activities are:

According to A Century of Christian Witness: History of First Congregational Church Santa Cruz, California, p. 88, the Santa Cruz union was founded in 1883, "by no less than fifty women members of the Congregational Church."

Writing in 1892, E. S. Harrison adds that it started,

with about forty members. Mrs. E. Spalsbury, President; Mrs. A. A. Taylor, Corresponding Secretary; Mrs. M. Willet, Recording Secretary; Mrs. Richard Thompson, Treasurer.

Under the auspices of the society a free reading room was established, which was well sustained until the Young Men's Christian Association was organized, when it was given to them as a nucleus for their library. Excellent work was done among the boys in a company, called the Boys' Brigade, under Mesdames Perry and Lindsay. Among other work was the organization of a Young Woman's Union, a good deal of charitable work, editing a column in the local press, holding of gospel temperance meetings, all churches uniting, educational work in all departments, helping to make public sentiment for prohibition and the enfranchisement of women. The society numbers at present about sixty members. Mrs. M. Everts, President; Mrs. Ella Pringle, Secretary. (E. S. Harrison, History, p. 208)

The last Annual Report which lists the Santa Cruz Union, although without a report from it, is that of 1984.

Watsonville Union. 1884-1959.

WCTU Fountain - Watsonville
WCTU Fountain, Watsonville
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

This union was organized in 1884. (Annual Report, 1956)

From at least Jan. 5, 1888 to Feb. 1, 1891 the Watsonville Pajaronian carried a column, didactic more than reportorial, entitled "This Column is Devoted to the Interests of Temperance and is Edited by the WCTU." Located on an inner page at first, the column was on the front page from at least November 1, 1890. Also, according to the Pajaronian of Jan. 17 and 24, 1889 and Jan. 2, 1890, the WCTU was meeting in the Presbyterian Church, and the same newspaper on Jan. 14, 1897 reported that "the ladies of the WCTU held evangelical meetings" at the Christian Church.

In 1891,

Watsonville Everts Union duplicates the National Departments of work. It is aggressive and abreast of the times in its methods; and quick to seize opportunities, hence is a growing union. The kindergarten at Watsonville found the union helpful both with means and sympathy. The interests of the union are well represented in its membership of earnest workers. (Harrison, History, p. 208)

The Watsonville Union had a water fountain erected in the Watsonville City Plaza in 1893. I observed that, although somewhat modified, it was still in operation in 2007. The inscription on it reads "God's free gift."

The California WCTU Annual Convention was held in Watsonville in 1906. (Annual Report, 1925)

The Watsonville Union last appeared in the 1959-1960 Annual Report.

Highland Union. 1888-?

Highland Union, organized October, 1888, is a center of influence and work. It aims at self-improvement of members, also helping others in the same line. They have done much evangelistic work, and helped on the Woman's Suffrage course. Liquor selling has also felt the influence of their work, and found it to be unprofitable. This union, although small in numbers, is strong in its efforts for the cause of truth and sobriety, endeavoring to make their town a safe place for its young people to grow to worthy citizenship. (Harrison, History, pp. 208-209. Note that Harrison's work was published in 1892.)

One of the Highland Union's projects appears to have been the placing of a horse watering trough to compete with the horse trough outside a saloon on an old section (now called Morrell Road or Morrell Cutoff) of the Soquel-San Jose Road. Thus,

About 1887 George Liston built and ran a saloon near this long bridge, [over Laurel Creek] the only one between Lexington and Soquel. In an endeavor to counteract the evil influence of the establishment, the W.C.T.U. women had a watering trough built around the bend from it. They hoped to have the farmers stop there and water their horses instead of in front of the saloon, where they might be tempted also to quench their own thirst. (Walter Young, "Memoirs of Walter Young," Los Gatos Times — Saratoga Observer, July 14, 1959)

This union no longer appeared in the Directory and Hand Book of the Tri-County Woman's Christian Temperance Union, December, 1921.

Morrell Cutoff Bridge
Morrell Cutoff Bridge, Summit Area
Location of a Woman's Christian Temperance Union Horse Watering Trough
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

Boulder Creek Union. 1892-1962.

Founded in 1892, (Annual Report, 1956) the Boulder Creek Union played a significant role in the tumultuous history of temperance and anti-temperance in that town through the early years of the twentieth century. This story is told in McCarthy, Grizzlies, pp. 30, 35, 85, and 87. It was also brought to the public's attention by a 2007 exhibit at the San Lorenzo Valley Museum.

The reading room was opened on January 1, 1893 in the two-storey building which the WCTU had built for itself. It was maintained financially by the rental of the upper storey. (Spencer, History, p. 120)

WCTU Fountain - Boulder Creek
WCTU Fountain, Boulder Creek
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

In 1908 the Boulder Creek WCTU was granted permission by the Boulder Creek Board of Trustees to erect a public drinking fountain. (minutes of the Boulder Creek Board of Trustees, reported in the Mountain Echo, June 20, 1908) "A splendid dinner was served in the Commercial Hotel by the ladies, The proceeds of which will go to erect a drinking fontain in the public square." (Mountain Echo, April 13, 1908) Curiously, I have not yet found documentation that the fountain actually was built. What I have found is this statement from the 1940 Annual Report: "Boulder Creek put a sidewalk in front of their building, sent young people to Y.T.C. [Youth Temperance Council] meetings and dedicated a drinking fountain in honor of two pioneer women, Mrs. Emma Dool and Mrs. Nellie Parker, and also purchased a projector for Tri-County."

In 2007 Barbara Kennedy, Director and Historical Interpreter of the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, pointed out to me the remains of what appeared to be two water fountains in Boulder Creek. The one was a pedestal type near Junction Park, along the path which led to the former railroad station. It has evidently been moved a short distance to make room for new construction. The other, several blocks away, was built into a stone wall across the street from the former WCTU building. Local history sources have, so far, at least, little to say about these fountains, and neither bears any identification, but either or both could be relics of the WCTU in Boulder Creek.

WCTU Fountain, Boulder Creek
Possible Remains of a WCTU Fountain, Boulder Creek
Image courtesy of P. Tutwiler.

In 1921 the union had 8 members, (Directory and Hand Book of the Tri-County Woman's Christian Temperance Union, December, 1921) but in 1940 it had 17. (Annual Report, 1940)

In 1948 the WCTU sold its building and "contributed $3000 derived from the sale of their building toward construction of the social hall wing of the Boulder Creek Community Methodist Church." (The Valley Press, March 2, 1966)

Both the Valley Press on March 2, 1966 and the Santa Cruz Sentinel on July 13, 1969 reported, in articles written by Bill Neubauer, that the Boulder Creek WCTU disbanded in 1948. The fact is, however, that in the 1952 and subsequent Annual Reports it was called the San Lorenzo Valley Union. Its last Annual Report was for 1962-1963.

Corralitos Union. 1894-1984.

According to the Annual Report of 1956 this union was organized in 1894. It was last listed in the Annual Report of 1984, although without a report of its activities.

Soquel Union. 1923-1959.

This union, which was organized in 1923, (Annual Report, 1956) last appeared in the Annual Report of 1959-1960.

East Santa Cruz Union. 1926-1963.

Organized in 1926, (Annual Report, 1956) this union had a "banner year" in 1927, with 54 new members. (Annual Report, 1927)

The Annual Report for 1956 has East Santa Cruz united with Santa Cruz. The Annual Reports for 1957-58 through and including 1963-1964 list only East Santa Cruz, but thereafter, at least to and including 1983, the Annual Report lists Santa Cruz rather than East Santa Cruz.

Aromas Union. 1936-1945.

The first appearance of this union in the Annual Reports was in 1936. The Annual Report of 1940 states that it had 9 active members, but after 1945 the Aromas Union was no longer listed in the Annual Reports.


A Century of Christian Witness: History of First Congregational Church, Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz: Church Historical Committee, 1963.

Directory and Hand Book of the Tri-County Woman's Christian Temperance Union, December, 1921. No indication of printer or place of printing.

Ernst, Eldon G. and Douglas Firth Anderson. Pilgrim Progression: The Protestant Experience in California. Santa Barbara: Fithian Press, 1993.

Harrison, E. S. History of Santa Cruz County, California. San Francisco: Pacific Press Publishing Company, 1892.

Los Gatos Times - Saratoga Observer. [Los Gatos, CA].

Malmin, Judy Pybrum. Corralitos. Revised ed. Corralitos: published by the author, 1998.

McCarthy, Nancy. Where Grizzlies Roamed the Canyons: The Story of the San Lorenzo Valley. Palo Alto, California: Garden Court Press, 1994.

Mountain Echo. [Boulder Creek, CA].

Pajaronian. [Watsonville, CA].

Spencer, Dorcas James. A History of the Women's Christian Temperance Union of Northern and Central California. Written by request of the State Convention of 1911. Oakland: West Coast Printing Company, 1913.

Union Signal: official journal of the WCTU. Evanston, Illinois: Signal Press.

Valley Press. [Felton, CA].

WCTU.SOCAL. Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Southern California. 2008.

Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Woman's Christian Temperance Union. 2008.

Woman's Christian Temperance Union of California. Annual Reports of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of California. 1925 - 1983.
Also entitled Minutes of the... Annual Convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of California: 1925 through 1983.

>>Return to Home Page of Santa Cruz Spirituality.

View similarly tagged articles:

churches, Santa Cruz


It is our continuing goal to make available a selection of articles on various subjects and places in Santa Cruz County. Certain topics, however, have yet to be researched. In other cases, we were not granted permission to use articles. The content of the articles is the responsibility of the individual author. It is the Library's intent to provide accurate local history information. However, it is not possible for the Library to completely verify the accuracy of individual articles obtained from a variety of sources. If you believe that factual statements in a local history article are incorrect and can provide documentation, please contact the Webmaster.