The women of the Oberin W.C.T.U. expressed great interest in international temperance work and sought to support W.C.T.U. organizations in other countries. This series of three documents showcases such international involvement. The first document, an entry from the Union’s Minute Book recorded by the Union’s Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. J.A. Hart (1871-1936), indicates how the women worked to support international organizations by raising awareness of foreign temperance issues in the local prayer groups. Unable to directly impact the 1898 Canadian plebiscite vote on prohibition, the women relied on prayer and moral support to help their international sisters. The second document in this collection is a letter from Mrs. Bill, thanking the women for their support of the temperance efforts in Canada. This particular letter is acknowledged in the third document, another entry in the Union’s minute book recorded by Secretary Pro Tempore, Mrs. Ellen Durfee (1854-1901). This progression of documents showcases the contribution of the Oberlin W.C.T.U. to an international dialogue they believed would further their cause, not only in their “native land,” but in “every land.”

Due to the nature of the minute book entries and the tendency to only refer to the women of the W.C.T.U. by their last names, some of the women included in these entries have not been identified. In addition, the inconsistency in the generational suffixes of the various Rev. Bills in these documents makes determining their identities and those of their wives difficult. Having contacted one of their descendants who has blogged extensively about the Bill family tree, I believe that I have successfully determined the identities of the various Bills referred to in these documents. Finally, because the minute book entries are fairly long and most of the material contained in them does not pertain to the Canadian plebiscite vote, I have transcribed the entries up to the relevant reference and have then stopped the transcription after said reference. The letter has been transcribed in full.

Document 4 Text:

Sept. 14th 1898; Mrs. Baird our newly chosen Supt. of Evangelistic Work conducted the devotional exercises, offered by first singing “Guide me oh, thou great Jehovah”1; Mrs. Baird then read the 12th chapter of Romans and led in prayer; Rev. Bill Sr.2 was present and spoke to us of the state of temperance in Canada; he spoke of the importance of all temperance people using all of their influence toward doing away with the making, importation, and selling of intoxicants; he said that the 29th of Sept. was the time for the Canadian plebiscite3; he asked for prayers for Canada for there is a great struggle going on there; several earnest prayers were offered for this cause; the Union then sang “A charge to keep I have”4; Mrs. Durfee5 moved that this cause for prayer might be brought to the notice of the pastors of the several churches, and the young people’s meetings; Mrs. Cheney, Vance, Bill6, Zellers were appointed to see that is presented in each of the church prayer meetings.

Document 5 Text:

Addressee: Mrs. J. A. Hart7
Walnut Street
Oberlin, OH

14 Cawthra Ave
Nov 12/98

To the Woman Christian Temperance Union of Oberlin, Ohio

Dear Sisters,

I heartily thank you for your very kind words of kindness and sympathy conveyed to me by our sister Mrs. Hart. I shall always have treasured memories of Oberlin Union and very, very tender feelings come over me when I think of those earnest prayers which the dear sister offered for Canada before the plebiscite vote was taken. I am sure your sympathies are with the workers here and are in unison with us. I know what will be the result. The workers are pressing their claims hard. What the answer from the government will be we cannot anticipate. Pray for the work, and for the worker in Canada. Lovingly yours in the work.

E.V. Bill9

Document 6 Text:

Dec. 14th 1898 December meeting was held in the First Church Chapel; the President Mrs. Cheney presiding; the devotional exercises conducted by Mrs. Baird; she gave an interesting exposition of a part of the 5th chapter of Matthew, dwelling especially on Christ’s words “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees she shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven”10; the Sec. – Mrs. Hart11 – having been called away by the illness of her mother, Mrs. Durfee12 was appointed Sec. Pro. Tem. The minutes of the last meeting and of the Ex. Com. meeting were read and approved. Treasurer reported. A letter of thanks for the band of bedding sent to Berea College13 was read from Mrs. Penniman; one from Mr. Tillotson expressing his appreciation of sympathy shown by the Union on his mother’s death. Also one from Mrs. I.E. Bill Sr.14 expressive of her affection for the members of this Union and asking our prayers for the work and workers in our great cause in her home in Canada.

Transcribed by Lizzie Edgar.

1 Text: William Williams (1717-1791); trans. from Welsh by Peter Williams and author. Music: John Hughes (1873-1932); (Cyber Hymnal)

2 Rev. Ingram Ebenezer Bill Jr. (1836- circa 1887). Rev. Bill Jr. was a missionary in New Zealand and pastor of the First Yarmouth Baptist church in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. He also served as a pastor in Caribou, Maine, Ohio, and New Brunswick. He is labeled as Rev. Bill Sr. in the entry because his son, Rev. Bill III, was a notable pastor in Oberlin who was typically called Rev. Bill Jr., so the suffix on his name was likely changed to avoid confusion with his son (Heather Rojo, Nutfield Genealogy).

3 The plebiscite on prohibition, held on September 29, 1898, was the first national referendum in Canada’s history. The non-binding plebiscite saw 51.3% of the vote in favor of introducing prohibition. Voter turnout, however, was only at 44%. A majority voted in favor of prohibition in all provinces except Quebec. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s government chose not to introduce a federal bill on prohibition, despite the majority in favor (The Canadian Encyclopedia).

4 Text: Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Music: Lowell Mason (1792-1872); (Cyber Hymnal).

5 Ellen R. Greely Durfee (1854-1901), married to Rev. Charles S. Durfee (Ontario County Chronicle Newspaper).

6 Considering that the letter from Mrs. E.V. Bill carried a return address from Toronto, the Mrs. Bill referred to within this minute entry would probably be her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Blanch Bill. Blanch was married to Rev. I.E. Bill III, called Rev. Bill Jr. in the minute book entries, who held a pastor position at the First Baptist Church in Oberlin from 1897 to 1904 (Heather Rojo, Nutfield Genealogy).

7 Jennie B. Hart (1871-1936), corresponding secretary of the W.C.T.U. (The Chronicle Telegram Elyria).

8 The first temperance organization in Canada, the “Prohibition Women’s League,” was formed by Mrs. William Doyle in Owen Sound, Ontario 24 May 1874. The first effort of this union was to have liquor licenses revoked from grocery stores. On 25 October 1875 the first Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Toronto organized (Archives of Ontario).

9 Mrs. Eleanor Bill, nee Pike, the wife of Rev. Ingram Ebenezer Bill Jr. (1836- circa 1887). Eleanor and Rev. I.E. Bill Jr. were married in Maidstone, Kent, England in 1869 (Heather Rojo, Nutfield Genealogy).

10 Matthew 5:20

11 Jennie B. Hart (1871-1936), corresponding secretary of the W.C.T.U. (The Chronicle Telegram Elyria).

12 Ellen R. Greely Durfee (1854-1901), married to Rev. Charles S. Durfee (Ontario County Chronicle Newspaper).

13 Berea College, of Berea, KY, was founded in 1855 by Rev. John G. Fee as a one-room school. Fee recruited Oberlin graduates as the first teachers for his school. Fee hoped that his school would become a sister institution to Oberlin “which would be to Kentucky what Oberlin is to Ohio, anti-slavery, anti-caste, anti-rum, anti-sin.” (About Berea College: History)

14 Reverend I.E. Bill held a pastor position at the First Baptist Church in Oberlin from 1897 to 1904.