Document 7: Mrs. Louise Renthinger to Mrs. Ellen R. Baird,
April 18991

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Postmarked in April of 1899, this letter from a female missionary working in West Africa to the Oberlin W.T.C.U illustrates the increasingly expansive scope of women's temperance work at the close of the nineteenth century. Although the individual sender and recipient remain relatively anonymous, this exchange is representative of broader trends in international temperance work. Forging overseas connections like those demonstrated by this letter, the temperance movement allowed American women to adopt a global framework for their advocacy.

Affiliated with missionary work, temperance movements in African territories were inextricably tied to colonial civilizationism and predicated on Western ethnocentrism and moralizing. Mrs. Renthinger's language concerning the "rum traffic" is indicative of this paternalistic framework; Christian missionaries working in the colonies sought not only to reform the perceived vices of native peoples, but also to contain their so-called licentiousness. In their campaign against the rum trade, missionary women also hoped to protect the Western men and women, who were often the product's final consumers. By contextualizing their efforts in a global struggle against the evils of alcohol, these women asserted themselves as international actors and claimed jurisdiction over an ever-expanding "moral" sphere.

Document Text:

Benito2 West Africa April 25th, 1899
Mrs. Ellen R. Baird
Oberlin Ohio

My Dear Mrs. Baird,

It was very gratifying to receive your letter, accompanied by Miss. Williard's book.3 We sincerely thank the ladies of the W.C.T.U for their kind sympathy, and for the assurance that they will unite in prayer for us and for those women on Corisco,4 who feel so deeply what an enemy they have to contend with in the rum bottle.

Were it not for the rum traffic and its accompanying evils, conquests for the Gospel of Christ woul(d) be much more easily made on the "Dark Continent."5

Please do not get weary in praying for us, and I am sure we shall realize anew, that, "the prayer of the righteous availeth much."6 Each one standing in his last at home and abroad will hasten to the coming of the kingdom and His blessed appearance.

Sincerely yours in hope and blessed service,
Mrs. Louise Renthinger

[1] Transcribed by Hanna Van Reed

[2] A missionary station established in Spanish Guinea in 1864. It became the central station of the Mission after 1900, when the Mission's name was changed from the "Gabon and Corisco Mission" to the "West African Mission."

[3] Frances Willard's 1895 Do Everything: a Handbook for the World's White Ribboners which proposed a comprehensive temperance strategy encompassing numerous interlocking departments and concurrent lobbying, petitioning, preaching, publication, and education. This misspelling of Willard's last name is Mrs. Renthinger's own.

[4] A small island located in the Bay of the Mitémélé River, in the Gulf of Guinea, that was acquired by colonial Spain in 1843. It was incorporated into Equatorial Guinea when the nation gained independence from Spain in 1986.(The Canadian Encyclopedia).

[5] A term applied to Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, by Western writers throughout the 19th century to evoke the region's mysteriousness and presumed unenlightenment. This phrase was popularized by Henry. M. Stanley's 1878 travel account, Through the Dark Continent.

[6] James 5:16, King James Bible: "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."