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.