WCTU of Richmond Fountain
Backstory and Context
The WCTU has its roots in the Women’s Temperance Crusade, a spontaneous protest that took place in 1873. In that year, a group of women in Hillsboro, Ohio, launched a series of public demonstrations. Emphasizing their roles as matriarchs and enforcers of public morality, the women organized a demonstration at every saloon in the city wherein the women publicly prayed for the forgiveness of the errant barkeepers and patrons. They also demanded the shopkeepers to pledge to no longer sell alcohol. Within the next year, these demonstrations were occurring in over 130 communities.
These demonstrations led to a movement that culminated in an 1874 convention in Ohio and the creation of the WCTU. During this convention, the WCTU strongly advocated to erect public drinking fountains to ensure that thirsty men had access to water without having to walk into a saloon, as this could lead them to stay in and have stronger drinks.
The effort to create public water fountains ebbed and flowed in subsequent decades. This fountain was created by the members of the WCTU of Richmond in the years following the passage of the 18th Amendment which attempted to prevent the public consumption of alcohol. This fountain bears a verbose inscription in which the WCTU dedicates the fountain to their “friends in memory of the Crusaders of Hillsboro, Ohio” as well as honors Frances E. Willard, long-time leader of the WCTU.
The Temperance Movement eventually succeeded at outlawing the sale of alcohol when the Eighteenth Amendment was passed in 1919; but the Amendment was eventually repealed in 1933, and the political power of this group has steadily declined ever since. However, drinking fountains remain all across the country as a testament to the efforts to stop alcoholism.
Unfortunately, the pipes that brought water to this particular fountain became unusable four or five decades ago and have never been replaced. What remains at this site, therefore, is less a fountain than a monument to the activism of women in the 19th and early 20th century who found ways to act politically both before and after government officials recognized their right to vote.