Role models are a powerful way to encourage us that we can tackle challenges in our life. Yet role models as also humans so they flawed. The role of historian is to discover and share the truth from the past so that we can learn from it today. This means showing the flaws in potential roles models. These flaws are not valuable only for historical truth but also to prove that each us, no matter our own weaknesses and strengths, can take an active role in fighting for justice.
The Alexander Family lived in Van Wert, Ohio, where Boole’s father was a prosperous lawyer. The Alexanders were anti-slavery but also Democrats before the birth of Boole. Democrats were a split political party, particularly over the issue of expanding slavery into the new territories. Northern and Southern Democrats feared losing power so they continually compromised on the issue of slavery. Mr. Alexander was an abolitionist so for him there could be no compromise. He became a member of the Free Soil Party, which was created by anti-slavery members of the Democrat, Whig, and Liberty Parties in 1848. By the time that Ella was born on July 26, 1858, the Free Soil Party had been absorbed into the Republican Party.
After graduating second in her co-ed college class at the University of Wooster in 1878, Ella worked in the high school she had attended back in Van Wert for five years until she married minister William Boole in 1883.
Boole and her husband had mutual interests in the alcohol prohibition movement before they were married. By 1883, she joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She was an excellent organizer, and by 1891 she was named vice-president of the New York Chapter of the WCTU and eventually became the president of that chapter. The prohibitionists even formed their own political party, unsurprisingly called the Prohibition Party. Outraged by her state senator’s opposition to the 18th Amendment, Boole unsuccessful ran against him in 1920 for the Republican nomination and then as a 4th-party candidate.
From 1903 to 1909, Boole served as Secretary of the Woman's Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church. The organization provided teachers for what it considered underserved communities of black, Native American, and Appalachian poor in the American South and West. Teachers also promoted the ethics and morals of the Presbyterian Church. Such an approach was quite common among many organizations at the time, even if today we know that this can lead to the extermination of native beliefs and traditions.
From 1925 to 1933, Boole was the president of the national WCTU. Before her term ran out she became president of the World WCTU from 1931-1947. At the age of 88, she stepped down from leadership positions in these organizations but still attended meetings when she could and wrote letters to officials.
Prohibition of alcohol was not Boole’s only position, though all of her social and political passions revolved around ethical or moral issues. Boole was chair of the Woman's Anti-Vice Committee of New York City, which worked to ban many things that feminists today support, such as birth control information. She was president of the Allied Forces for Civic and Moral Betterment in the state of New York, which was an umbrella organization for many groups opposed to prostitution, alcohol, and what they believed to be immorality.
There was often a connection between the prohibition movement and protecting women and children, and Boole recognized that connection. She worked with the Women’s Press Club of New York in the early 20th century to encourage more women to get involved in the media and communication industries. Similarly, she helped candidates and organizations that fought for women’s right to vote, established separate courts for juveniles in court cases, and to pass laws to protect women and children in industry.
On March 13, 1952, Boole died at the age of 93 in Brooklyn, New York. Up until she passed away, she never backed down from her positions on how to approach to address pressing social problems affecting women and children.
Today, Ella Alexander Boole’s social efforts may surprise many feminists. Yes, she fought for women’s and children’s rights in some areas, she didn’t believe that slavery had a place in America, and she felt that women needed to be active in the public arenas. Boole also believed in a more parental role for government that might make many of us wary today.