The WCTU was originally organized on December 23, 1873, in Hillsboro, Ohio, and officially declared at a national convention in Cleveland in 1874. It operated at an international level and in the context of religion and reform, including missionary work as well as matters of social reform such as suffrage. Two years after its founding, the American WCTU sponsored an international conference at which the International Women's Christian Temperance Union was formed.
The connections and contradictions between the two parts of its purpose — Christianity and Temperance — meant that the women involved confronted ideological, philosophical, political and practical dilemmas in their efforts to improve society around the world. Although some labeled the Union as gender-biased, others disagreed by pointing out the many male supporters behind the scenes.
In 1944, Lt. Mutt Daniels and Sgt. Herman Muldoon took refuge in Evanston's Frances Willard House, home of a WCTU founder, and drank whiskey while relaxing there. When Muldoon remarked that this activity would have the WCTU ladies spinning in their graves, Daniels replied that he had seen plenty of WCTU members in his youth in Mississippi. He said "I figured anything those sour old prunes were against had to be good enough for me to want to be for it." Muldoon agreed with this logic.