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Alton Prohibition Stories - Part 2

By Ann Davidson, Genealogy & Local History Volunteer

Prohibition 6

Alton Women’s Christian Temperance Union

After its inception in 1878, the Alton chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was one of the most active and long-lived of the temperance societies. They certainly had the highest visibility, based on the number of entries (30 out of 62) in the Alton Evening Telegraph Index 1836‒1933. The last notice of their work was listed in 1928. The women took concrete actions to encourage temperance.9 From 1887, 1901 and c. 1910, they raised money for the installation of three public water fountains so anyone could quench their thirst for free.10 The fountains were located near the old post office room outside city hall, near the waiting rooms of the street railway station, and on Broadway outside the Princess Theater in downtown Alton.11 In 1884, near the Alton glassworks (Illinois Glass Company), the WCTU opened a Sunday school, “the only one in the city superintended by ladies.”12 One of the leaders of all this effort was Mrs. Elizabeth B. Clarkson.

Prohibition 4

“Mother” Clarkson

Mrs. Clarkson was a “white ribboner” to show her purity as an ardent member of the WCTU.13 At the age of four, she prayed that all the liquor in the world would be poured into the ocean. She said she never missed her noontime prayer for temperance, a WCTU tradition.

Born in 1820 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Mrs. Clarkson arrived in Alton circa 1850.14 “Mother” Clarkson, as she was affectionately known, and her husband had been living on a Missouri farm when they became aware of guerilla bands of rebels advancing. They fled by prairie schooner (covered wagon), crossing the Mississippi on a ferry near St. Louis. They drove north until they were relieved to see the Union flag flying over the home of the Flagg family. They were welcomed and given a cabin where they could stay.

Eventually the Clarksons settled in Alton, where they resided many years at 210 East Second Street (today called Broadway). Mrs. Clarkson became very active in the First Presbyterian Church. She never missed a session of Sunday school for her male students, whom she called “her boys,” keeping in touch with them for years, even after they married and had children of their own. In her later years, Mrs. Clarkson lived with her sister, Mrs. Isabelle Gilman, and was cared for by her daughter.

When women voted in Alton for the first time in 1914, Mrs. Clarkson was the oldest Altonian to go to the polls. After voting, she said that she had never wanted the vote until she realized the men were not getting the job done, i.e., passing prohibition laws. With impaired sight, Mrs. Clarkson cast her ballot in 1914 with the help of two men. She and 4,200 other Alton women voted for the first time in history.

Just three years before her dream of prohibition would come true, Mrs. Clarkson passed away in 1916 at the age of 96.15 She had two sons and two foster daughters.16 The Telegraph printed beautiful eulogies on the front page. She was laid to rest in Alton Cemetery.17

Prohibition 5


11. “Mother of Church Closes Her Work,” Alton Evening Telegraph, September 26, 1914, p. 1, c. 6.

12. “Sunday School,” Alton Telegraph, March 8, 1884, p. 3, c. 2.

13. “Alton’s Oldest Woman Voter Gives Talk,” Alton Evening Telegraph, April 7, 1914, p. 1, c. 1.

14. “To Visit Scene of Wartime Experience,” Alton Evening Telegraph, February 23, 1912, p. 1, c. 5.

15. “Oldest Sunday School Teacher: She Arrives at Fullness of Faith at Ninety Years,” Alton Evening Telegraph, January 19, 1912.

16. “Funeral of Mrs. E. B. Clarkson,” Alton Evening Telegraph, September 29, 1916.

17. Mrs. Clarkson’s Grave - full size photo

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