The Women's Total Abstinence Union and periodical Wings, 1892-1910: A Study of Gender and Politics


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In 1893, an internal schism occurred within the British Women's Temperance Association (BWTA), creating the National British Women's Temperance Association (NBWTA) and the Women's Total Abstinence Union (WTAU). The Women's Total Abstinence Union (WTAU) has since received very limited critical attention, having been historically dismissed as a conservative organisation, only concerned with temperance work, when compared to the more radical National British Women's Temperance Association (NBWTA). Via a critical examination of the WTAU's periodical, Wings, from 1892 to 1910, and associated Union materials, this project interrogates the presumptions made concerning the apparently conservative nature, aims and actions of the group and the women within. Contributing to the burgeoning research area of print and periodical culture this project reflects on how women managed the contradictions posed by gender “ which shaped women as private domestic individuals “ and political identity “ when encouraged to undertake reform work outside of the safety of the private sphere.
This thesis provides an original contribution to knowledge through utilising an interdisciplinary methodological approach combining periodical culture with a study of community and gender. Its main contribution lies in the study of a neglected group, the WTAU, and their unexplored periodical, Wings. Significant research has centred around radical and/or conservative constructions of nineteenth-century femininity but the voice of the quiet majority in between, and their everyday experiences, remains largely underexplored. This project examines gender constructions within female reform work, specifically temperance, and argues that Union women used a respectable area of social reform work in a potentially progressive way. The WTAU was not solely conservative, nor was it instead radical, rather, its members, aims and actions can be placed on a sliding scale, encompassing conservatism and progressivism alongside radicalism. Moreover, this thesis suggests that this should be replicated for other female reform workers and groups more broadly, in order to provide a better understanding of the sector and how issues of middle-class, feminine respectability influenced women within. It also provides a contribution to knowledge in its methodology, utilising a three layered approach to address the complex issue of readership. It focuses firstly on a broad implied readership, secondly, using census research on a cross-section of Union membership, and finally, undertakes two case-study analyses of Union women on opposing sides of the respectability debate. In examining the Union and its members in three ways, this thesis provides a new way of examining female reform work and periodical readership, and uncovers the complexity of the WTAU, situated within a wider connected world of campaign, print and platform.
Date of Award9 Apr 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorBOB NICHOLSON (Director of Studies) & Alyson Brown (Supervisor)


  • NBWTA Women's Total Abstinence Union
  • WTAU
  • gender
  • nineteenth-century femininity
  • National British Women's Temperance Association

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