"They say, 'What right do you have? Mind your own business.' But it is my business when it has to do with the protection of the home."

So sayeth Maude B. Montrose, a woman who would be savior.

Her problem is that she has picked a tough town to save. Any survivor of a "wet" Washington party knows that, without "fire water," it would barely be considered a party at all.

So to be Washington-area president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union is a little like being future bookings director of the Titanic. The odds appear long.

But so does Maude Montrose's confidence. While she acknowledges that her organization is often unnoticed, she says she is "just as happy to keep it that way.

"In the Scriptures it says if we look for the praise of men, we lose the praise of God," Montrose said. "I'd rather let Him give us the reward."

That is probably the most accurate window on this 103-year-old vastly misunderstood organization.

Smashing bottles of booze before newsreel cameras is far, far in the past. The WCTU is all W, it stands for T and it is run like a U. But the emphasis is on the C.

"The whole idea is that total abstinence is consistent with being a good Christian," said Montrose. The WCTU condemns alcohol, not because it wants people to be unhappy. Rather, it says you don't have to be blasted to be able to smile. It is for self-control in all aspects of life, and it is against not only alcohol, but also cigarettes and drugs.

In the Washington area, the WCTU makes a particular effort to reach young people. Much of its budget goes toward placing information booklets in elementary schools. In addition, the WCTU pitches hard at young prisoners and church youth groups.

The group's members often know all too personally whereof they speak.

The treasurer of the local chapter, Jessie Combs, was married for years to a husband who "just couldn't help himself." In the familiar cycle, Paul Combs' drinking led to a spotty job record, to arguments at home and to near misses on the highway.

"Six years ago, he said God spoke to him," said Jessie Combs. "He started going to church with me. He's never wanted another drink."

By decree of its national convention, the WCTU will not disclose its total membership. Many believe it is declining, however, and many believe it stands to decline further, since many members are getting on in years.

However, Maude Montrose, 65, sees aging members as just another sign that the WCTU approach is correct. "How can you get to be old if you don't take care of yourself?" she asks.

The approach even pleases young non-members at times.

At this summer's national WCTU convention in Springfield, Ill., Montrose was congratulated by a young hotel chambermaid on the conduct of WCTU members. "She said what a pleasure it was to find rooms where the ashtrays weren't full and the rooms weren't full of empty bottles," Montrose said.

But neither passing compliments nor Christian faith can undo the fact that rivers of booze are sold and drunk in the U.S. every year. So isn't the WCTU kidding itself?

Maude Montrose is realistic enough to know that neither she nor the WCTU can reverse the alcoholic flow. "All we can do is educate people, try our best, use whatever means we can," she said.

If she could rid the face of the earth of alcohol, or witness another prohibition, she would be ecstatic, Montrose said. But barring either, she will just keep passing along The Message "one person at a time."

Some of those one-at-a-times are senators and representatives. The WCTU has a full-time Capitol Hill loobyist, and these days her sober eye is trained directly on the celebrated bill that would make "three-martini" business lunches taxable. The WCTU, of course, favors the bill because it thinks drinking would decline as a result.

Meanwhile, the local chapter is studying the possibility of opening a nursing home for its members. It already owns a headquarters townhouse on Capitol Hill, but the building is not large enough for the 10 or so elderly residents Montrose has in mind. "Maybe someone would will us a home," she said.

If all their professions of virtue make WCTU members sound as if they are unable to have fun, well, think again. A frequent, and original, WCTU social gathering is the "fruesta" - a fiesta featuring fruit punch. It is the one official WCTU function at which men are welcome.

All in all, WCTU members around Around see their strenght as lying not so much in numbers as in the "rightness" of their position. They also think their very survival is proof that they must be doing somethiing right.

After all, it has been 44 years and many vats of scotch since prohibition was repealed. "We are still here, and that must mean someone is listening," Montrose said.

"So we'll keep going. We're not discourage. We just have to remind people that one with God is a majority."