White bow strikes a chord

Dunedin woman Joan McDonald displays the white ribbon bow badge signifying her membership of the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union. Photo by Gregor Richardson.Attendance at the King Edward Technical College centenary celebrations last month had an unexpected historical significance for 74-year-old former pupil Joan McDonald (nee Potter).

When she saw Annette Paterson (nee Forrester), a member of her old school hockey team, instead of peering at her name tag, she was more interested in the white ribbon bow badge Mrs Paterson was wearing.

The badge is worn by members of the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1885, the oldest combined women's organisation in New Zealand and a significant force in the suffrage movement.

Mrs McDonald said she had been looking for a badge for 50 years since that of her grandmother, Elizabeth Potter, had been lost.

The late Mrs Potter had been a stalwart of the WCTU about 75 years ago. She helped run a seamen's refuge in Port Chalmers, where sailors would be given "cups of tea and scones and the ladies organised books to keep them away from the demon drink".

Mrs McDonald was thrilled to discover Mrs Paterson was the national president and soon made arrangements to join the "nearly defunct" organisation.

Mrs Paterson, who lives in Auckland and has been involved in the union since 1993, said she preferred not to talk about membership numbers, but there were still groups in several parts of the country raising concerns about alcohol abuse. A particular focus recently had been on raising awareness of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Mrs McDonald is one of only two members in Dunedin, and the other is no longer active in the organisation.

A teetotaller as required under the WCTU rules, Mrs McDonald does not see herself as a one-woman crusader against all alcohol-related issues.

However, she said she was "going to be an absolute pain" if she saw pregnant women drinking.

She was also keen to remind young women about the role the WCTU had played in gaining women the vote. Proudly wearing her new badge, she would be telling them to vote in this year's election and encouraging them to "talk about what still needs to be done about the booze culture, so rife in our young women".

She was "overwhelmed" that she had found the badge after so many years of searching.

"I know I have got to do something with it."


White ribbon bow
The worldwide badge of the Women's Christian Temperance Union

A symbol of purity of purposeIn the original pledge, badge holders promised to:

1. Uphold the law of purity, as equally binding upon men and women.
2. Be modest in language, behaviour and dress.
3. Avoid all conversation, reading, art and amusements which may put impure thoughts into my mind.
4. Guard the purity of others, especially of the young.
5. Strive after the special blessing promised to the pure in heart.

Source: A Challenge Not a Truce, A history of the New Zealand WCTU 1885-1985, by Jeanne Wood



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