She resigned in the fall of 1882 when, at the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) national convention in Louisville, Kentucky, she was confirmed as the first president of the Missouri WCTU.
Clara Cleghorn was born on January 18, 1831, in De Kalb, New York, the 11th of 13 children of Scotch parents.
Her father, Humphrey Cleghorn, was an abolitionist and underground railroad conductor. Her mother, Olive Ruruham, was the daughter of a Major who served honorably in the Revolutionary War. Clara received her education in New York and Massachusetts, then went to Iowa to live with a brother. Clara taught school in Illinois before marrying Dr. Goswin Hoffman in 1861. The union was blessed with two sons.
The couple moved to Warrensburg, Missouri, in 1869, and to Kansas City in 1871. For ten years, Mrs. Hoffman served as principal of the Lathrop School in Kansas City. She resigned in the fall of 1882 when, at the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) national convention in Louisville, Kentucky, she was confirmed as the first president of the Missouri WCTU.
The WCTU had been organized on December 23, 1873, in Hillsboro, Ohio, and held their first national convention in Cleveland in 1874. Its goal was to “create a sober and pure world by abstinence, purity, and evangelical Christianity.” As stated in their constitution, they sought complete “prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors as a beverage.”
This led to other social reform issues such as suffrage, prostitution, public health, and sanitation. By 1882, the WCTU was ready to organize in Missouri. They did this at Hannibal in May. Mrs. Hoffman was elected the first president of the Missouri WCTU.
Mrs. Hoffman served as president of the Missouri WCTU for 25 years. Twelve of those years she was also the recording secretary of the national chapter. During her years as president, Hoffman and her “White Ribbon army”—so nicknamed because of the white ribbon badges they wore—worked tirelessly toward their mission of prohibition.
First one town went dry, then a county. One by one, other towns and counties joined the movement to make Missouri dry.
Dr. Hoffman died in 1893. Two years later, Mrs. Hoffman was elected a delegate to the world’s temperance convention in London, England. Following the convention, she stayed in Europe for eight months, lecturing about the evils of alcohol in England, Germany, France, and Switzerland.
Mrs. Hoffman was such a successful leader she took Missouri’s WCTU from “poor old Misery” to second in the nation. Her name is among those listed on “A Woman of the Century.”
Clara Cleghorn Hoffman was laid to rest next to her husband, Dr. Goswin Hoffman, at Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, US history, and Cooper County history.
In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.