McLELLAN, MARY (Wiley), teacher and temperance reformer; b. 3 Aug. 1836 in Schenectady, N.Y., daughter of John McLellan and Hannah Ellis; sister of James Alexander McLellan; m. before 1861 Gerald (Gerard, Jared) Wiley, a carpenter, and they had at least three sons and three daughters; d. 7 Sept. 1909 in Richmond Hill, Ont., and was buried in Thornhill.
Mary McLellan was born to Nova Scotian parents of loyalist descent. By the late 1870s she, her husband, and their family were living in Richmond Hill, where she taught public and Sunday school. About this time she developed an interest in temperance: in 1877 her signature appeared on the letters of incorporation for the Ontario Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, of which Letitia Youmans [Creighton*] was president. In 1884 she helped found a branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Richmond Hill; two years later she was elected corresponding secretary of the provincial body.
The WCTU was one of the most active women’s organizations in late-19th-century Canada. Early on it adopted prohibition, legislated by the state, as its main platform. Methods used by the union to achieve this goal included the circulation of public petitions, the distribution of literature, and appeals to the electorate, clergy, and “societies of suitable character” to exert pressure on the government. The WCTU’s dedicated executive played a key role in uniting women who were not only isolated from one another but also, in many cases, unfamiliar with club procedure. Under its guidance, the WCTU grew steadily, numbering 325 unions nationwide with a membership of 9,343 in 1891.
In addition to her teaching and local work in temperance and as corresponding secretary, Mary Wiley served as superintendent of two departments of work for the Ontario WCTU: temperance literature (1888–89) and conference with influential bodies (1887–92). In 1892, in the annual report of the Dominion WCTU, Wiley, a Methodist, expressed “great satisfaction” with the progress that had been made in securing the support of church synods, assemblies, and conferences in “denouncing the traffic in strong drink.” She also reported that, shortly before stepping down as superintendent, she had interviewed the Ontario Teachers’ Association. It was in full accord with WCTU principles and believed in temperance teaching, which the WCTU had succeeded in having added to the elementary-school curriculum on an optional basis in 1885, but the association was not satisfied with the authorized textbook.
In 1900, after 15 years as corresponding secretary for the Ontario WCTU, Wiley retired from active service with the union. Her teaching career at Richmond Hill Public School ended after 30 years. She died in 1909 and was buried in the family plot at Thornhill Cemetery.
The WCTU papers at AO, F 885, include a fairly complete set of annual reports, incomplete runs of the bulletins, and a few local records. Unfortunately, they contain almost no personal information on any of the organization’s members and no correspondence from the early years.
AO, F 885, ser.1, MU 8398.1, p.42; ser.3, MU 8428.10. NA, RG 31, C1, 1881, Richmond Hill, Ont.: 20; 1891, Richmond Hill: 9 (mfm. at AO). Liberal (Richmond Hill), 16 Sept. 1909. “The aims, methods and boundaries of Ontario prov. departments of work, with a list of provincial superintendents,” Woman’s Journal (Ottawa), 7 (1890–91), no.5, supp.: 1 (mfm. in AO, F 885). Canadian White Ribbon Tidings (London, Ont.), 1 Oct. 1909: 1508 (mfm. in AO, F 885). Wendy Mitchinson, “The WCTU: ‘For God, home and native land’: a study in nineteenth-century feminism,” A not unreasonable claim (L. Kealey), 151–67; “The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union: a study in organization,” International Journal of Women’s Studies (Montreal), 4 (1981): 143–56. Woman’s Journal, 9 (1892–93), no.3: 6.