The British Women’s Temperance Journal: January 1883 – September 1892

By 1882 a monthly letter was being circulated as a means of communication between the branches of the British Women’s Temperance Association. During an Annual Meeting it was proposed that the organisation should print a monthly periodical, which would provide more information than a newsletter would allow for, regarding the work of the Association, its branches and members. The delegates were enthusiastic and as a result a resolution was carried instructing the Executive Committee to investigate the costs and practicalities of producing the periodical.

The British Women’s Temperance Journal commenced publication in January 1883 on a monthly basis priced at 1 Penny. According to the February issue, the first edition of 2500 copies published for January were sold out in just three days with a second edition also selling out by the middle of the month, with ‘commendations and congratulations’ pouring in from ‘all quarters’.

It was during the period before the eventual re-naming of The British Women’s Temperance Journal that the then President of the BWTA, Lady Henry Somerset, became challenged by opponents on the Executive Committee regarding her ‘Do Everything’ Policy. She wanted to broaden the agenda of the Association to include Suffrage, but this did not go down well with those members who wanted to continue purely as a Temperance organisation.

Before a trip to America the President had put forward proposals to members for both an improved monthly paper and also a weekly one ‘on broad lines’. Lady Henry appears to have been very keen to push forward the idea of a broader weekly paper, but this became a conflicting area. Records show that she wanted a weekly paper to also represent the World’s Women Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU), with which she was heavily involved alongside Frances Willard. The supposed ‘Americanisation’ of the BWTA also became another area of contention.

Whilst she was abroad the result of the vote came through from the branches, with the majority voting for the continuance of an improved monthly paper only, so it was resolved to continue with the British Women’s Temperance Journal as the official organ of the BWTA.

In the Annual Report of 1891-92 the Council Meeting records a ‘lengthy discussion’ taking place regarding the adoption of a ‘…. paper about to be edited by Lady Henry Somerset, as the official organ….’. Lady Henry expressed her ‘…. hope that her weekly paper will not be considered a rival to the Journal’. However, the decision was made to continue with the British Women’s Temperance Journal as the official monthly organ of the BWTA until the next Council Meeting where it would be reconsidered.

Any plans Lady Henry wanted for a paper for the BWTA covering wider issues, were put to rest with these decisions. Further friction arose when Lady Henry’s opponents alleged that she was alluding only to the weekly paper to be started by herself and that she had used the word ‘ours’ in a document, therefore intimating that this would be the accepted official organ of the BWTA when in fact the British Women’s Temperance Journal had been voted through.

Lady Henry Somerset and The Woman’s Herald

Both sides of the conflict over Policy within the BWTA, then took action over the ‘Official Organ’. A Special Committee for the British Women’s Temperance Journal was appointed which included Miss M E Docwra as a member, one of the key opponents of Lady Henry’s new policy reforms. This new committee had the power to ‘take into consideration the present character of the Journal, and with power to make a radical change’. Lady Henry’s  opponents were taking more control of the official organ in light of the disagreements which were coming to the fore, whilst Lady Henry herself was moving forward with her own plans for a broader weekly paper, separate to the BWTA.

Edward T Bennett was the Proprietor and Editor of the BWT Journal, but suggestions had been made that a Lady Editor should be appointed. It was proposed to form a limited liability company called the British Women’s Temperance Association Newspaper Company Limited with only ‘British Women’ as shareholders, in order to move forward with a scheme of changes to the publication and to create a separate fund in order to finance it. Mr. Bennett agreed to retire from Editorship and rights to the Journal were handed over in September 1892, with Miss Forsaith accepting Editorship. It was a pivotal moment when they announced ‘…. We become the Proprietors of our own Journal and have a British Woman as Editor.’ By the following month, the Official Organ was re-named ‘Wings’.

Whilst Wings continued to be published as the Official Organ of the BWTA, Lady Henry became editor of a separate publication, called The Woman’s Herald (previously the Women’s Penny Paper). This was the paper that had been discussed previously at Council but was not taken forward as the Official Organ. It covered wider women’s social issues and was billed as being ‘The only Paper Conducted, Written, Printed and Published by Women’ and also ‘A Liberal Paper for Women’. This paper gave Lady Henry the voice she wanted to cover wider issues at a time when the British Women’s Temperance Journal could not fulfil this purpose.

The 18th February 1893 edition announced the change of ownership and management of The Woman’s Herald and by the next edition on the 23rd February 1893, it was under the editorship of Lady Henry Somerset. The front page ‘Policy’ set out that the paper would be identified with Temperance, the World’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the cause of the Women’s Liberal Federation. Lady Henry now had her wish for a paper covering the broader social issues of women of the time including suffrage. 


Wings: Oct 1892 – Dec 1893 (continued onwards under the WTAU)

In September 1892 the Committee for the British Women’s Temperance Journal, with Miss M E Docwra as Committee President, announced that the October 1892 edition of The British Women’s Temperance Journal would now be published under “the new and beautifully suggestive title of ‘Wings’.” The Committee which had taken control of Editorship of the publication in Lady Henry’s absence in America, had the power to make changes and the name was one such change.

The front cover of the first edition specifies the new title ‘Wings with which is incorporated The British Women’s Temperance Journal’; the original publication name still a visible presence.

Both the BWTA’s Wings and The Woman’s Herald edited separately by Lady Henry, were published prior to the May 1893 Annual Council Meeting of the BWTA, when things came to a head and the vote on making women’s suffrage part of the BWTA’s mission gained a narrow majority. The defeated members who had opposed Lady Henry, resigned from the organisation including Mary E Docwra and formed the Women’s Total Abstinence Union (WTAU) which continued to do much of the same work as the BWTA but focused on Temperance. The BWTA was now newly re-named as the National British Women’s Temperance Association.

The Woman’s Herald of 11 May 1893 carried the front-page article ‘The Responsibilities of Success’ about the decisive victory of Lady Henry and the progressive party within the BWTA, whilst the June edition of Wings included correspondence protesting about the ‘unconstitutional proceedings’ during the May Council Meeting. The two sides of the conflict used their publications to show their side of the story. Wings was still the Official Organ of the BWTA but what was to become of the publication now that organisation had split into two?

May and June editions of Wings following the May Council Meeting still carried the title – WINGS with which is incorporated The British Women’s Temperance Journal’ but was written from the standpoint of the now resigned committee members who went on to form the WTAU.

The Journal: June 1893 – December 1893

Following the fracture within the association and with Wings still being published by Lady Henry’s former opponents, negotiations were pending for the establishment of a new permanent monthly paper for the newly named NBWTA under the continued leadership of Lady Henry. This was to be either the official transfer of Wings to the NBWTA or the publication of a new one. Whilst these formalities were being resolved, a temporary publication was set up by the NBWTA called The Journal in June 1893.

The first monthly edition of The Journal was almost entirely devoted to detailed coverage of the conflict over Policy and ‘Lady Henry’s Triumph’ over the ‘majority’ who were opposed to her ‘Do Everything’ Policy. The paper utilised Press editorial notes, interviews, and articles from leading religious contemporaries of the time, to cover the re-election of Lady Henry and the ‘battle’ fought against her opponents who went onto resign and form the WTAU.

With the ownership of Wings in question, both Wings and The Journal continued to be published. When it was recognised by the NBWTA that no further negotiations could take place with the editor of Wings and the publishing company, the NBWTA Executive Committee under Lady Henry’s leadership approached the White Ribbon Company who were producing their literature, to launch a new Official Organ to be named ‘The Woman’s Signal’.
The December 1893 issue of Wings declared for the first time that it was ‘The Official Organ of the Women’s Total Abstinence Union’ and continued to be published by them until the two organisation’s were to unite again later. There were just seven editions of the NBWTA’s temporary ‘Journal’ until December 1893 when the front page ran a special announcement of the launch of “Lady Henry Somerset’s New Paper, “The Woman’s Signal” which was to be the new official organ of the NBWTA.

The Woman’s Signal (Jan 1894-Dec 1896) & The Woman’s Signal Budget (Sept 1894-Aug 1895)

In 1894 Mrs Eva McLaren moved the resolution that the paper devoted to the interests of women and edited by Lady Henry Somerset ‘The Woman’ Herald’, would be adopted as the new Official Organ of the NBWTA. This publication was amalgamated with the temporary Journal to become ‘The Woman’s Signal.  The ‘Signal’ also had the benefit of the subscription list of the Herald. The front cover title reads ‘The Woman’s Signal with which is incorporated “The Woman’s Herald”, and Lady Henry was one of the Co-Editors.

The Woman’s Signal was launched in January of 1894 as the Official Organ of the Association. It was believed that to have a weekly rather than a monthly journal would be a forward movement for the Association. The title including the word ‘Signal’ appears to be a nod towards the WWCTU’s Union Signal published in America and was sometimes edited by Lady Henry who was the Vice President.

The White Ribbon Publishing Company which produced the Association’s other literature, agreed to publish The Woman’s Signal weekly priced at One Penny. There was a circulation of 15000 with a target of 20000 per week.

Just eight months after The Woman’s Signal was launched, a new monthly publication called ‘The Woman’s Signal Budget’ was running in tandem with it.


The ‘Budget’ ran for 12 editions until August 1895 and was an easier to read and condensed summary. An 1895 advert for both publications in the Annual Report for the year shows us that national subjects were covered in The Woman’s Signal and was a ‘…. Weekly Review of Women’s Work in Philanthropy and Reform’, with contributors including ‘the best women writers of the day on Political, Social and Industrial questions.’

In contrast, the ‘Budget’ version was advertised as ‘Official News of the National BWTA, Short Stories, Sketches and Papers by Temperance Workers’, as it had been decided that the monthly Budget was more suited as the Official Organ than the weekly Signal. It had a lower price, and it was confined more to Branch News. They made the decision to send the Budget out to the branches instead of the Signal and it was then to be re-considered at the next Council of 1895.

Lady Henry had subsidised the papers herself at a cost of £2500 and if the Budget was going to be adopted as the Official Organ then the Association needed to take financial responsibility for it and the subscription list needed to increase but by September 1895 the Budget had been dropped. The Minutes of the Executive Committee records that having lost £2500 on the papers Lady Henry did not feel justified in continuing either of the papers and the announcement came in the 26th of September edition of The Woman’s Signal, that owing to the fact that she would be travelling abroad and due to family duties, she was withdrawing her name from active Editorship. Her Co-Editor also resigned due to health reasons and Mrs Florence Fenwick Miller took on responsibility to carry on the paper.

Mrs Florence Fenwick Miller was a journalist, author and social reformer and she took over the Signal with an agreement to include the news of the NBWTA in its columns every third week of the month. This arrangement was to continue until the next Council Meeting when it was to be decided if it should continue as the Official Organ. By January 1896 branches were expressing a desire for a monthly paper in preference to the weekly Signal and early in the year The White Ribbon Publishing Company shared the plan that they were willing to supply a monthly paper for the Association, should the Council decide to make changes in respect of the Signal.

By July 1896 Branch members were requesting news of a new monthly Official Organ, but the Signal was still ordered, importantly as news of the official opening of Duxhurst Inebriate Farm Colony was to be included. Dissatisfaction was voiced that members would be receiving the Signal again but two different proposals had been put forward to the Executive Committee. One was to revive the now discontinued Woman’s Signal Budget with a Sub Editor appointed and paid for by the Association, but the proposition carried forward was for a new monthly paper to be called The White Ribbon Signal but to be distinct from The Woman’s Signal. Fenwick Miller already Editor of the Signal made proposals for the new paper with funding, oversight of contents and business management by the NBWTA. With some questions over circulation numbers, it is recorded that the White Ribbon Signal was issued in November and December.

The White Ribbon Signal (no image available): Nov 1896 – Mar 1897 (dates to be confirmed)

If circulation of 12000 per month for the year could be guaranteed, the new Official Organ could continue and so an agreement was put in place with Fenwick Miller to publish the paper for twelve months provided the guaranteed circulation for the year reached this figure. Only 8000 were ordered and the Executive Committee discovered that by publishing the paper themselves it could continue without a loss even with smaller numbers. Fenwick Miller was approached but dispute arose as she claimed that the terms of the contract meant that the Association was either bound to discontinue the paper altogether or leave it in her hands for twelve months. Her claim was disputed as the specified guaranteed circulation had not been reached therefore fulfilment of the contract could not be insisted upon.

They pushed on to to take over the paper as soon as possible and after difficult negotiations with Fenwick Miller she agreed to relinquish publication of the paper although it is recorded that it remained in her hands until March 1897. She did however, object to the paper being called The White Ribbon Signal due to confusion with The Woman’s Signal that she was publishing. She suggested that the name should be The White Ribbon and agreement for this name change was made.

(Unfortunately we do not hold any copies of The White Ribbon Signal, so we have been unable to confirm exact start and end dates of publication under this name until Fenwick Miller relinquished control and the name changed to The White Ribbon. The earliest White Ribbon we hold is dated November 1897 Vol 12 No. 1 and is in bindings stating The White Ribbon Signal when this is not the case.)


The White Ribbon: Apr 1897? – Dec 1925

Once the dispute over the name had been settled, the White Ribbon was published by the Association in 1897 and it has been the longest running of all the Official Organs, albeit with yet another change between 1926 and 1931. In December 1925 it was announced that a paper would be launched which was to be the Official Organ of the NBWTA and also of the Women’s Total Abstinence Union (WTAU), the organisation set up independently following the dispute over policy in the 1890’s under Lady Henry Somerset’s Presidency (1890-1903).

The new paper was named ‘The White Ribbon and Wings’



The White Ribbon & Wings: Jan 1926 – Dec 1931

The White Ribbon & Wings was launched in January 1926 and was billed until May 1926, as the Official Organ of the NBWTA and the WTAU, when it became the ‘Journal of the National British Total Abstinence Union’ (NBWTAU). The two previously fractured organisations amalgamated under this new name and ‘White Ribbon and Wings’ was published until December 1931 when it reverted back to The White Ribbon for the Jan 1932 edition.

The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon remained the Official Organ for the organisation from 1932 throughout the twentieth century, beyond World War II, the post war boom of the fifties and out the other side, moving headlong into the 21st Century. With the cause of Temperance at its core, its contents have included devotional articles, political and social updates, plus children’s material and serialized fiction with temperance and moral teachings. Back copies of the White Ribbon and its predecessors track the social, political and spiritual progress of women and the rise and decline of the Temperance Movement.

Today our organisation no longer promotes total abstinence as society has changed, but we continue to educate the community about healthy lifestyle choices, echoing the desires of those women involved in the very first publications of the Association, for us to lead healthy and happy lives.