In an age when Americans spend $58 billion a year on beer, wine and liquor and $25 billion on tobacco products, 88-year-old Pauline Seidenspinner of College Park remains determined to stamp out what she calls "the enemies:" alcohol and tobacco.
That is why, despite the heavy rain yesterday, Seidenspinner drove to the Brentwood United Methodist Church to attend the 58th annual convention of the Prince George's County branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.
The WCTU, which began holding prayer vigils outside saloons more than a century ago, and enjoyed its heyday during Prohibition, still is trying to abolish pornography, promote prayer, and convince people to give up smoking and drinking.
Seidenspinner explained:"Right now, things are bad everywhere. But we will never give up."
Indeed, the theme of the conference was faithfulness, necessary, the 22 members present agreed, for the current critical phase in the union's history as it struggles to replenish its ranks with younger members--who must pledge not to drink alcohol or smoke.
The average age of active WCTU members is about 60. At yesterday's conference, a vase of white carnations sat atop the speaker's desk, next to a bronze cross, hymn books and a Bible. Each carnation represented a temperance union member called this year to her "heavenly home."
"You see all these crowds on TV attending this or that demonstration and you might say, 'Why aren't there more people here today?' " asked keynote speaker Freda Johnson of Jefferson, Md., the union's statewide promotions secretary.
"But God isn't interested in numbers. He says, 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst,' " Johnson told the gathering of 17 women and five men.
While the original temperance movement included several suffragettes and early feminists, the entry of great numbers of women into the working world is one reason that WCTU members give as a cause of their membership problems.
In recent years, the union has broadened its agenda to include support for legislation dealing with child abuse and battered wives, partly in an effort to attract younger professional women to the organization, said Nancy Zabel of College Park, the union's state president. Zabel said that there are about 450 WCTU members in Maryland.
Ellen Culp, a minister's wife and president of the county chapter who, like other members, said she began attending temperance meetings more than 50 years ago at her mother's side, says that she does not worry about the state of the world today.
"I pray about it," she said.
In addition to praying, she, like the other members, writes letters to public officials espousing her views. The national chapter also has produced films for youngsters stressing the dangers of drug use. The films are distributed in churches, schools and libraries. The Prince George's chapter recently sponsored a poster contest in local public schools on the subject.
Yesterday, the local chapter voted unanimously in support of efforts to outlaw pornography, profanity, abortion, the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages on airplanes, and the advertising of alcoholic and tobacco products in the mass media.
"We are just a sincere group of people trying to help citizens live better lives," Zabel said.