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The Story of a Work of God - Part One
by: Miss Frances E. Willard


First Corresponding Secretary, Nat'l Woman's Christian Temperance Union 
Stories of the Women’s Crusades, late 1860’s to the early 1870’s 
Chicago, November 8, 1877 
"In the cross of Christ I glory,Towering o’er the wreck of time
All that’s bright in human story, Radiates from its form divine!”

Part One: The Women’s Crusade 

Ours is a famous country for protection. There is a tariff to protect industry, while the patent laws are a safeguard to invention. There are the land grants for railroads, subsidies for steamship companies, charters for corporations.  

In many of the States we have societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and in nearly all, laws for the protection of game. Busy with all these gentle, wise, and patriotic measures, there is one place our brothers have forgotten adequately to protect, and that is -home

The Women’s Temperance Crusade …was a protest against this forgetfulness and this neglect. It was the wild cry of the defenseless and despairing, whose echo rose to Heaven and still resounds in every ear that is not deaf.  

At the height of that wonderful uprising, a sweet-voiced Quaker woman led her band to the chief saloon in an Ohio village. 

“What business have you to come here?” roared the affrighted dealer. 

Going to the bar she laid her Bible down and said: “Thee knows I had five sons and twenty grandsons, and thee knows that many of them learned to drink right in this place, and one went forth from here maddened with wine and blew his brains out with a pistol ball; and can’t thee let his mother lay her Bible on the counter whence her boy took up the glass, and read thee what God says: 'Woe unto him that puts the bottle to his neighbor’s lips?’” 

The saloon-keeper had but to point to the wall behind him, where hung his “license to see,” bearing the names of prominent citizens of the village, and emblazoned with the coat of arms of the Commonwealth. They all met in that little scene-Gospel and Law, man’s failure, woman’s grief; while the reason why, and the place in which they met, gave ample answer to the question heard so often: What did the Women’s Crusade mean? 

There is another question quite as often asked: What did the Crusade do? 

One of its leaders made this reply: … “Well, let me answer from my own experience. Until it swept over our place, though I had lived there twenty years, I knew so little about this drinking business that I couldn’t have pointed out a saloon in the whole town. I thought the queer looking places with blinds and screens were barber-shops. Since then I have found out that they are shops where men get shaved—not of their beards, but of their honor. Since then, too, I took my little four year old boy to market with me one morning, and feeling his clasp of my hand tighten, I looked down and saw his head turned backward apprehensively. 

 “Why Willie, what’s the matter?" I exclaimed. 

There were volumes of meaning in the reproachful roll of his solemn blue eyes as he whispered: ‘Didn’t mamma know that her little boy was a-passin’ a saloon?’ 

Surely it was the crowning achievement of the Crusade that it opened the eyes of millions of women and children in this land to the existence and the dangers of the rumshop. In consequence of this the public finger points today with imperious gesture at the saloon, and woman’s voice in tones of irresistible persuasion cries, ‘Look there!’” 

What did the Crusade do? Take another illustration. In front of a saloon that had refused them entrance, knelt a crusading group. Their leader was also the most prominent Methodist lady of the community.  

Her head was crowned with the glory of gray hairs; her hands were clasped, her sweet and gentle voice was lifted up in prayer. Around her knelt the flower of all the churches of that city. 

At the close, an Episcopal lady offered the Lord’s prayer …and when they had finished, a dear old lady in the dove-colored garb of the Friends’ Society was moved to pray. 

“Going out on the street” signified a good deal when one comes to think about it. First of all, it meant stepping outside the denominational fence. The Crusaders felt that “unity of the Spirit” was the one essential, nor feared to join hands with any who had the Bible and the temperance pledge for the two articles in their “Con-fession of Faith,” who rallied to the tune of “Rock of Ages cleft for me,” or had for their watchword: “Not willing that any should perish.” 

Best of all, “going out on the street” brought women face to face with the world’s misery and sin.  

Here I may be pardoned a bit of personal reminiscence. Never can I forget the day I met the great unwashed, untaught, ungospelled multitude for the first time. 

Need I say it was the Crusade that opened before me, as before ten thousand other women, this wide, “effectual door?” It was in Pittsburgh, the summer after the Crusade. Greatly had I wished to have a part in it, but this one experience was my first and last of “going out with a band.” A young teacher from the public schools, whose custom it was to give an hour twice each week to crusading, walked arm-in-arm with me. Two school-ma’ms together, we fell into the procession behind the experienced campaigners.  

On Market Street we entered a saloon the proprietor of which, pointing to several men who were fighting in the next room, begged us to leave, and we did so at once, amid the curses of the bacchanalian group. 

Forming in line on the curbstone’s edge in front of this saloon, we knelt, while an old lady, to whose son that place had proved the gate of death, offered a prayer full of tenderness and faith, asking God to open the eyes of those who, just behind that screen, were selling liquid fire and breathing curses on His name. 

We rose, and what a scene was there! The sidewalk was lined by men with faces written all over and interlined with the record of their sin and shame. Soiled with “the slime from the muddy banks of time,” tattered, disheveled, there was not a sneering look or a rude word or action from any one of them.  

Most of them had their hats off; many looked sorrowful; some were in tears; and standing there in the roar and tumult of that dingy street, with that strange crowd looking into our faces—with a heart stirred as never until now by human sin and shame, I joined in the sweet gospel song: 

       “Jesus the water of life will give Freely, freely, freely!” 

Just such an epoch as that was in my life, has the Crusade proved to a mighty army of women all over this land. 

Does anybody think that, having learned the blessedness of carrying Christ’s gospel to those who never come to church to hear the messages we are all commanded to “Go, tell,” we shall ever lay down this work? 

If you would find them (women fresh from the sacred home-hearth and cradle-side, wearing the halo of these loving ministries) go not alone to the costly churches which now welcome their voices, while to those who are “at ease in Zion” they gently speak of the great, whitened harvest. 

But go to the blacksmith shop and billiard-hall, to public reading-room and depot waiting-room, to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, the Woman’s Temperance Room of Cincinnati, and Lower Farwell Hall, Chicago, and you will find the glad tidings declared by the new “apostolic succession” dating from the Pentecost of the Crusade. 

There is another question often asked…What is the Crusade doing now

The Crusade…it has come and it has gone-that whirlwind of the Lord-but it has set forces in motion which each day become more potent, and will sweep on until the rum power in America is overthrown. There was but one Pentecost; doubtless history will record but one Crusade

A phenomenon no less remarkable, though certainly much less remarked, has succeeded that wonderful uprising--indeed, is aptly termed its sober, second thought. This is the phenomenon of organization

The women who went forth by a sudden impulse, irresistible, divine, to pray in the saloons, became convinced, as weeks and months passed, theirs was to be no easily-won victory. 

The enemy (the liquor industry) was rich beyond their power to comprehend. He had upon his side the majesty of law, the trickery of politics, and the leagued strength of that almost invincible pair-Appetite, Avarice

He was persistent, too, as Fate. He had determined to fight it out on that line to the last dollar of his enormous treasure-house, and the last ounce of his power. 

But these women of the Crusade believed in God, and in themselves as among his appointed instruments for the destruction of the rum power. They loved Christ’s cause.  

            To be continued in Part II


Copyright 2005
Woman's Christian Temperance Union
of South Dakota