In 1874, the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in Cleveland, Ohio and in the fall of 1892 a local chapter was formed in Boulder Creek. The members of the WCTU were staunch supporters of the suffrage movement. In an 1892 letter to the Santa Cruz Sentinel the WCTU chides the male voters of Santa Cruz for not voting for Alfred J. Hinds, the temperance candidate for Mayor. “I doubt not but that every women [sic] if allowed to vote, untrammeled, as she believed to be right, would vote for temperance.”
The temperance and suffrage movement were tightly linked. In the late 1800s, there were few states in which women could control property, they could not vote, or have custody of their children if they divorced. Rape was rarely prosecuted and the age of consent in California in 1880 was just ten.
The temperance movement was in part women’s protest against their lack of civil rights, at a time when many local political meetings were held in saloons, and as such inaccessible to women.
According to the WCTU, at the end of the 1800s Americans spent over a billion dollars on alcoholic beverages each year, compared with $900 million on meat and less than $200 million on public education.
Boulder Creek WCTU Souvenier
The perceived need for a local chapter in Boulder Creek was a result of the extensive lumber interests and a railroad terminus and hence “scores of young men on the streets with little but evil before them.” The WCTU resolved to build a free reading room and public library to entice these young men away from the saloons.
The building, which still stands today on the east side of Highway 9 just south of East Lomond, was constructed in 1893 and dedicated on January 1, 1894. The first floor housed the library and the WCTU parlor; the second floor housed the librarian and their family. In order to raise funds to support the reading room, events such as a “Martha Washington Supper” (Martha Washington being the first first lady) and a “Festival of Days” were held in local halls.
Boulder Creek incorporated in 1902, the third Santa Cruz County town to so do. In 1908, the temperance movement was strong. Under the leadership of Rev. Thomas Lawson the city elected to go dry.
It was still dry in 1911, when California voted on the 8th Amendment (Proposition 4) making it illegal in California to deny women the vote. In several local precincts, the measure failed to pass. It was becoming increasingly obvious that in order to win the male vote nationally, the suffrage movement would have to distance itself from the temperance movement.
Boulder Creek WCTU Banner, San Lorenzo Valley Museum Collection