American and Japanese Gender Hierarchies Teaching Tool: Teaching strategy

The World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Japan

Based on document project "How Did American and Japanese Gender Hierarchies Shape Japanese Women's Participation in the Transnational WCTU Movement in the 1880s?" by Rumi Yasutake. 2009.

Link to document project.

Jessica Derleth
Binghamton University


In the 1870s and 1880s women of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) joined the swelling ranks of female missionaries and sought to expand their influence beyond the United States and Europe. As a part of this international crusade for moderation and abstinence, a group of female activists sought to reform social and cultural practices in Japan. While far from the U.S., these women still had to contend with American mores, thriving within the missionary community, that said women should not speak in public. Japanese reactions to the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU) and female public speakers varied: some sought to emulate American custom and thus rejected female speakers, others embraced Japanese traditions that did not condone women in such leadership roles, while others pushed against the restrictions from both cultures. Study of the Japanese union allows for the consideration of complex cultural interplays based on religion, morality, politics, and gender.


  • Study the role of women in religious, moral, and political organizations, particularly within an international context.
  • Critically examine nineteenth-century strictures on women speaking in public and how they influenced the functioning of organizations such as the WCTU.
  • Consider the cultural interactions and exchanges that occurred between American WCTU activists and Japanese participants and observers.

Lesson Ideas

1. Read document 3, written by a male missionary who reflects on the role of women in mission work. Though it is written from the perspective of one individual, what can this letter tell you about what various groups may have thought about female missionaries? Consider, for example, missionary organizations, church leaders, male and female missionaries, wives of missionaries, and those receiving aid.

2. Both document 4 and documents 8A/8C advocate for women having a greater role in society, an expansion of their duties and opportunities. While similar in tone, the first document was written by a Japanese woman who was arrested for speaking in public, while the later came from an American woman who did outreach with the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Compare and contrast the two perspectives. Do these women see the same problem and solution? How do they view the role of women and, in particular, Japanese women?

3. Read document 6. How does this document help you to understand contemporary strictures on women speaking in public and participating in the public arena? Both from this reading and your wider knowledge of the era, what helped to change the social ban on women speakers and public leaders? Did religion seem to be a hindrance or help in the development of active, public female participation?

4. Read document 9B where WCTU missionary Mary Leavitt argues for reform in Japanese dress, housing, and marriage practices. What are your reactions to this document? What does the author want? How can you evaluate it based on the historical context? Now read document 14A by Japanese minister Kajinosuke Ibuka; take into consideration that in the 1870s and 1880s many in Japan were trying to abolish feudal customs and attain "advanced civilization" by embracing the ideologies of Western powers. Does document 14A change or modify your understanding of document 9B?

5. In studying the history of missionaries it is easy to imagine a one-way process of coercion. After all, president of the WCTU Frances Willard wrote about the need to move beyond "the artificial boundaries of states and nations," to address "oriental degradation," and uplift the entire world "to the level of Christian morals" (see document 22). Reconsider Willard's perspective by reading document 21 by Tokyo WCTU activist Toyojyu Sasaki. Does she appear to be in complete agreement with the American and European activists who came to Japan to establish the WCTU?


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