After New York City schoolteacher Harriet Duncan came to Minnesota in 1868, she became an advocate for temperance and women's suffrage. She was president of the Minnesota Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) for seventeen years and urged the WCTU to work on behalf of women's rights more broadly.
Harriet A. Duncan, born in the north of Ireland in 1825, immigrated to the United States and landed in New York City in 1843. She became a successful teacher, working in classrooms for twenty-five years. She also doubled as a principal for fifteen of those years.
In April 1868 Duncan came to Red Wing, Minnesota, to marry a recently-widowed Methodist Episcopal churchman, Chauncey Hobart. Her groom had built an impressive reputation serving Methodists in Illinois and Wisconsin frontier towns before reaching Minnesota.
The Hobarts both loathed the destructive potential of intoxicating liquors. This led them to become active in the effort to ban alcohol. In 1852 Chauncey was listed as an officer in the new Minnesota Territorial Temperance Society. Harriet, upon reaching Minnesota, eagerly joined those who fought alcohol dependency.
Harriet Hobart took an active part in the 1874 Minnesota Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) convention in Red Wing. She was a speaker at the meeting, along with Julia Bullard Nelson and Elizabeth Hutchinson. These three WCTU leaders also believed women should have the right to vote, and argued successfully for a vote in support of women's suffrage.
Hobart made temperance her top priority, however. In 1877 she helped to organize the local Red Wing's Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Harriet became president and continued in that role for seventeen years.
Seen by her colleagues as an effective leader and speaker, Harriet Hobart became president of the Minnesota WCTU in 1881. She held that position for thirteen years. Her tenure as president proved the longest in the group's history. Hobart's inspiring speeches about alcohol abuse, as well as women's rights, gained her broad support. She did not see WCTU members as politicians but did want them to be active in and knowledgeable about politics.
President Hobart's 1891 speech before the Minnesota WCTU's Fifteenth Convention argued for women's rights broadly. She and other leaders were widening the scope of their organization. Some critics within the WCTU felt such efforts were a sideshow that weakened the struggle against liquor. But Hobart felt strongly that God made women equal to men and that women only forgot this because of their domination by men. Hobart, like many of her WCTU sisters, believed that getting the vote would empower women and eventually bring about equal rights. This strength would help them in their war on intoxicating beverages.
During her 1892 presidential address before the WCTU, Hobart told of the Union's power to influence others. She told members to share their views about regulation of the liquor traffic with every man they dealt with-husbands, brothers, sons, friends, merchants, and workmen.
Harriet Hobart died in 1898 at age 74. She did not live to see her work successfully completed, but prohibition and women's suffrage made great gains during the two decades after her death. The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1919, banned the making and sale of intoxicating liquor. Until its repeal in 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment was enforced by the Volstead Act, named for Andrew J. Volstead, the U.S. Congressman from Minnesota who introduced it. The Nineteenth Amendment, which provided women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920.
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After moving to Minnesota from New York City in 1868, Duncan becomes an advocate for temperance and women's rights.