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Hannibal played key role in state’s WCTU’s growth

Baby Parade during a fall festival circa 1900, showing South Fifth Street with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union tabernacle in the background. This photo is now a part of the Hannibal Arts Council's Hannibal as History collection.


Frances Willard, long-time president of the national Women’s Christian Temperance Union, visited Hannibal in September 1883 to attend the first convention of WCTU in the state of Missouri. Organizational plans had been under way during the preceding winter, spring and summer, and Miss Rose Phillips of Hannibal had been called to Kansas City to serve as corresponding secretary for the new group, even before a state president had been elected.

Clara C. Hoffman, who was working at the time as principal of the Kansas City schools, was later named president of the Missouri WCTU chapter. She left behind her role in education to serve the WCTU, and together with Rose Phillips of Hannibal, they would work for temperance and women’s rights in the state of Missouri for the rest of their lives.

Wikepedia defines the Women’s Christian Temperance Union: “The purpose of the WCTU was to create a ‘sober and pure world’ by abstinence, purity and evangelical Christianity.”

Phillips’ life

In Hannibal

Miss Rose Phillips was 45 years old in 1879, operating a boarding house at 202 North Sixth Street. Living with her were her sister, Miss Mary M. Phillips, a Hannibal school teacher, and their widowed mother, Mrs. Phileta M. Phillips.

Back in their home state of New York in 1860, Rose and four of her sisters – Arabel, Nellie, Mary and Kate – were working school teachers, while their father was a farmer.

It is unclear why Rose and her extended family moved to Hannibal from Erie County, N.Y., sometime after the death of her father in 1869, but it is known Rose’s brother, Eugene C. Phillips (1841-1911) settled in Shelby County, Missouri, where many of the family members are now buried.

In April 1882, Rose moved to Kansas City, where she would assume the role of corresponding secretary for the Missouri WCTU.

The minutes of the May 18-19 First District convention, held in Kirksville, included a note as such: “All hearts were saddened by hearing that our State Corresponding Secretary is in poor heath.” Rose Phillips died July 22, 1888, at the age of 54, and is buried at Shelbina Cemetery.

Clara Hoffman spoke of Rose Phillips: “Missouri owes much to the pioneer work of that faithful Godly soul.”

Rose’s younger sister, Bessie Viola Phillips Cushman (1850-1935) was also active in the WCTU movement. While she didn’t live in Hannibal, she was a licensed medical doctor, and she successfully lobbied to have the legal age of consent raised from 12 to 16 in several states. She also campaigned to protect young girls in impoverished areas from the lure of prostitution.

First tabernacle

Hannibal’s first tabernacle building was constructed during the early 1880s on the northwest corner of Seventh and Church streets. A mention in the Quincy Daily Herald on April 20, 1882, noted that the chairs for the new tabernacle had been delivered.

In 1885 the building was known as Tabernacle Hall and Skating Rink, used as both a hall for the WCTU, and as a neighborhood gathering spot.

New tabneracle

Hannibal’s Congregational Church originally constructed a building in the 100 block of Fifth Street, but later abandoned the location, selling the property to the WCTU. In turn, a hall was constructed that would remain home to the movement for several decades.

On Sept. 21, 1888, Marion County Herald, published a resolution adopted at the WCTU Convention at Hannibal:

“Resolved, That we condemn the use of tobacco in any form as a sin against God because it defiles the body which is His holy temple. We call upon the ministers, teachers, fathers and Christian men to abstain utterly from this pernicious habit; that neither by example nor transmitted appetite they lead astray the youth of our land.”

In August 1925, the WCTU of Hannibal petitioned the Marion County Court:

“Representatives of the WCTU of Hannibal have petition the County Court to, in the future, see that the women have a fifty percent representation on all juries, in that end of the county, and it is understood that the Palmyra chapter will make the same kind of a request for this end of the county, says the Palmyra Spectator. The members of the county court select the juries by drawing names from a jury box, and at present there are no names of women in this box.” Macon Republican, Aug. 7, 1925,

The Marion County Court declined this request.

State president dies

Clara C. Hoffman of Kansas City, who made regular visits to Hannibal and was a well recognized and respected speaker on the topic of temperance, died in February 1908, at the age of 55. At the time of her death, Mrs. Hoffman was corresponding secretary of the national WCTU and was well known as a national temperance worker.

Photo of Clara c. Hoffman:

Clara C. Hoffman

Evening Star, 1900

Washington, D.C.

“Tabernacle of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union." Also inscribed, "for God and Home and Native Land." This building was located on the northwest corner of Seventh and Church streets, and existed early 1880s to 1894. Photo originally contributed by Philip A. Germann, Quincy, Ill., and is now a part of the Hannibal Arts Council's Hannibal as History collection.

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