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Md. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union keeps ‘do everything’ approach to activism

Bunny Galladora, the Maryland state president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, reads a pamphlet from the organization’s historical collection. The national WCTU was founded in 1874, and the Maryland WCTU organized in 1875. The group opposed alcohol and promoted women’s voting rights, helping drum up support to pass the 18th and 19th amendments. It has continued its campaign against alcohol and drugs and also takes stances on social issues, last year fighting referendums that expanded gambling, allowed same-sex marriage in Maryland and permitted alcohol sales in Damascus. (Elizabeth Waibel/The Gazette)

The documents and mementos spread out on Bunny Galladora’s dining room table in Gaithersburg could fill a small room at a museum. Books, leaflets, meeting minutes and newspaper clippings carry dates from a few years, a few decades and more than a century ago.

Pins, name tags, trinkets and collection boxes serve as reminders of various publicity campaigns and meetings of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. One collection tin, shaped like a Pepsi can, is from a Vietnam War campaign to send soda to soldiers as an alternative to alcohol.

Galladora, the national vice president of the WCTU and president of its Maryland chapter, serves as the informal archivist for people seeking to donate their collections of WCTU mementos or to find a home for papers left to them by relatives who were members. Some artifacts Galladora has collected went to a museum in Illinois, but more remain in her home and in a nearby storage facility.

Often, affiliation with the organization is passed down from mother to daughter, Galladora said. Although her mother was not a member, Galladora and her siblings signed WCTU pledges to abstain from alcohol.

“I still have my pledge from when I was 12,” she said. “A lot of it is passed down through families.”

The national WCTU was founded in 1874, and the Maryland WCTU organized in 1875. The group opposed alcohol and promoted women’s voting rights, helping drum up support to pass the 18th and 19th amendments.

“Women formed together to try to stop (alcohol-related) problems and to go to the different bars and saloons and pray in front of them to get them to stop selling alcohol,” Galladora said.

Although the organization has some honorary male members, it has remained a women’s organization.

“The women just sort of have always felt that once the men get involved, they take over, and things don’t go the way that maybe a woman thinks it should go,” Galladora said.

The Maryland WCTU also takes stances on social issues.

“We’ve always been in an educational role, and we work on all kinds of issues besides alcohol,” she said.

The Maryland WCTU organizes picture-coloring, poster and essay contests for children with anti-drug, -alcohol and -tobacco themes, and it has put up billboards to discourage people from drinking. It recently started a project called Face the Tears, in which people send in their handkerchiefs to represent the emotional damage alcohol abuse has caused in their lives or the lives of their loved ones.

In response to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network-sponsored annual Day of Silence, which seeks to raise awareness about anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools, Galladora started Truth Without Interruption Day to oppose what she calls the “gay agenda,” according to a news release.

Galladora said WCTU’s second president, Frances Willard, had a “do everything” outlook. In addition to campaigning against alcohol and for women’s rights, she pushed for support for programs started by other women, such as taking flowers to shut-ins. Galladora takes a similar outlook today.

Last year, the group campaigned against referendums that would expand gambling, allow same-sex marriage in Maryland and permit alcohol sales in Damascus, a dry community for decades. All three measures passed.

Galladora said the WCTU has no plans to try to make Damascus dry again but will continue discouraging people from drinking alcohol.

The Maryland WCTU also opposes abortion and is trying to keep the Boy Scouts of America from changing their policy to allow gay Scouts and leaders.

The organization has raised money to build wells in Africa, to build a playground and to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.

“There’s a lot of different things going on, and it just jumps from one thing to another, depending on what’s the hot issue,” Galladora said.

Galladora estimated the WCTU has about 6,000 members nationwide — not as many as there used to be. She attributed part of the decline to more women working outside the home and having less time for meetings.

“It’s kind of hard for them, if they have a week of vacation, to take it to go to a convention,” she said.

Maryland’s members are scattered across the state and stay organized via e-mail.

She did not provide an estimate of membership in Montgomery County.

Although each county, church and state might not still have its own WCTU, enough remain to provide a diversity of opinions and priorities, Galladora said, and the organization has members in 36 countries.

Although the president of the World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is American, its officers are spread out around the world. They are planning a convention in Australia this spring.

All of the chapters agree on some issues, Galladora said, such as opposing alcohol and abortion, but each local branch has other priorities and goals pertinent to the local community.

“A lot of them work on different issues that may or may not be worked on in Maryland,” Galladora said. “We don’t get marching orders from the top. Anything that comes up that we believe we can back up with Scripture, and that we believe is a detriment to health in the area, we pray about it . . . and that’s what we work on.”


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