Frances Willard (suffragist)

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Frances Willard
Frances Willard.jpg
Born Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard
(1839-09-28)September 28, 1839
Churchville, New York
Died February 17, 1898(1898-02-17) (aged 58)
New York, New York
Cause of death Pernicious anemia/ Influenza
Nationality American
Occupation Educator, author, temperance and women's rights activist, social reformer.
Known for First dean of women, Northwestern University; long-time president, Woman's Christian Temperance Union; founder, World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union; first president, National Council of Women
Religion Methodist

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (September 28, 1839 – February 17, 1898) was an American educator, temperance reformer, and women's suffragist. Her influence was instrumental in the passage of the Eighteenth (Prohibition) and Nineteenth (Women Suffrage) Amendments to the United States Constitution. Willard became the national president of Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1879, and remained president until her death in 1898. She developed the slogan "Do Everything" for the WCTU, encouraging its membership to engage in a broad array of social reforms through lobbying, petitioning, preaching, publishing, and education. Her vision encompassed raising the age of consent, labor reforms such as the eight-hour work day, prison reform, scientific temperance instruction, Christian socialism, and the global expansion of women's rights.


Frances Willard

She was born in 1839 to Josiah Flint Willard and Mary Thompson Hill Willard in Churchville, near Rochester, New York. She was named after English novelist Frances (Fanny) Burney, the American poet Frances Osgood, and her sister, Elizabeth Caroline, who had died the previous year. She had two siblings, her older brother, Oliver, and her younger sister, Mary. Her father was a farmer, naturalist, and legislator. Her mother was a schoolteacher.[1] In 1841 the family moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where, at Oberlin College Josiah studied for the ministry, and Mary Hill took classes. They moved to Janesville, Wisconsin in 1846 for Josiah's health. In Wisconsin, the family, formerly Congregationalists, became Methodists.[2] Frances and her sister attended Milwaukee Normal Institute, where their mother's sister taught.

In 1858, the Willard family moved to Evanston, Illinois, and Josiah became a banker. Frances and Mary attended the North Western Female College (no affiliation with the University) and their brother Oliver attended the Garrett Biblical Institute.[1][3] After graduating from the Northwestern Female College, Willard held various teaching positions and was appointed President of the new Evanston College for Ladies in 1871. When the Evanston College for Ladies became the Woman's College of Northwestern in 1873, Willard was named the first Dean of Women at Northwestern University.

In the 1860s, Willard suffered a series of personal crises. Both her father and her younger sister, Mary, died, and her brother became an alcoholic. Meanwhile, she became a friend of her future sister-in-law.[4] Willard's family underwent financial difficulty due to her brother's excessive gambling and drinking, and Willard was unable to receive financial support from them. In 1869, Willard was involved in the founding of Evanston Ladies' College.[1]

In 1870, the college united with the former North Western Female College to become the Evanston College for Ladies, of which Willard became president.[1] After only one year, the Evanston College for Ladies merged with Northwestern University and Willard became Northwestern's first Dean of Women of the Women's College. However, that position was to be short-lived, until her resignation in 1874 after confrontations with the University President, Charles Henry Fowler, over her governance of the Women's College.[4] Willard had previously been engaged to Fowler.[1]

After her resignation, Willard focused her energies on a new career, traveling the American East Coast participating in the women's temperance movement. Her tireless efforts for women's suffrage and prohibition included a 50-day speaking tour in 1874, an average of 30,000 mi of travel a year, and an average of four hundred lectures a year for a ten-year period, mostly with her longtime companion, Anna Adams Gordon.

In 1874, Willard participated in the creation of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) where she was elected the first corresponding secretary.[3] The same year, she was invited to become the President of the Chicago WCTU and accepted the position. In 1876, she became head of the national WCTU publications committee. She resigned from the Chicago WCTU in 1877, but in 1879, she sought presidency of the National WCTU and held the post until her death.[5] Willard was elected the first president of the National Council of Women of the United States in 1888, a position she held for the remainder of her life.[6] She created the Formed Worldwide WCTU in 1883 and became its president in 1888.[7] Willard also founded the magazine The Union Signal and served as its editor from 1892 yp 1898. She collaborated closely with Lady Henry Somerset, whom she visited several times in the United Kingdom.

Willard joined with Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, Mary Ellen West, Frances Conant and 43 others in 1885 in the founding the Illinois Woman's Press Association.[8]

As president of the WCTU, the crux of Willard's argument for female suffrage was based on the platform of "Home Protection", which she described as "the movement... the object of which is to secure for all women above the age of twenty-one years the ballot as one means for the protection of their homes from the devastation caused by the legalized traffic in strong drink."[9] The "devastations" were the violent acts against women committed by intoxicated men, both in and outside the home. Willard argued that it was too easy for men to get away with their crimes without women's suffrage.[10] The "Home Protection" argument was used to garner the support of the "average woman," who was told to be suspicious of female suffragists by the patriarchal press, religious authorities, and society.[11] The desire for "home protection" gave the average woman a socially-appropriate avenue to seek out enfranchisement. Willard insisted that women must forgo the notion that they were the "weaker" sex and embrace their natural dependence on men. She encouraged women to join the movement to improve society: "Politics is the place for woman."[12] The goal of the suffrage movement, for Willard, was to construct an "ideal of womanhood" that allowed women to fulfill their potential as the companions and counselors of men, as opposed to the "incumbrance and toy of man."[10]

Willard's suffrage argument also hinged on her feminist interpretation of Scripture. She claimed that natural and divine laws called for equality in the American household, with the mother and father sharing leadership. She expanded this notion of the home, arguing that men and women should lead side by side in matters of education, church, and government, just as "God sets male and female side by side throughout his realm of law."[10]

Willard's work took to an international scale in 1883, with the circulation of the Polyglot Petition against the international drug trade. She also joined May Wright Sewall at the International Council of Women meeting in Washington, DC, laying the permanent foundation for the National Council of Women of the United States. She became their first president in 1888 and continued until 1890.[5]

Willard died quietly in her sleep [13] at the Empire Hotel in New York City, after contracting influenza while she was preparing to set sail for England and France. She bequeathed her Evanston home to the WCTU. In 1965, it was elevated to the status of National Historic Landmark, the Frances Willard House.

Willard statue on display in the National Statuary Hall of the Capitol Building

Memorials and portrayals[edit]

The famous portrait, American Woman and her Political Peers,[14] commissioned by Henrietta Briggs-Wall in 1893, features Frances Willard at the center, surrounded by a convict, American Indian, lunatic, and an idiot. The image succinctly portrayed the argument for female enfranchisement; without the right to vote, the educated, respectable woman was equated with the other outcasts of society to whom the franchise was denied.

Willard was the first woman represented with among the illustrious company of America's greatest leaders in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. She was national president of Alpha Phi in 1887 and the first dean of women at Northwestern University. After 1893, Willard was influenced by the British Fabian Society and became a committed Christian socialist.[15]

The Frances Elizabeth Willard relief by Lorado Taft and commissioned by the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1929 is in the Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Indiana. The plaque commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Willard's election as president of the WCTU on October 31, 1879: "In honor of one who made the world wider for women and more homelike for humanity Frances Elizabeth Willard Intrepid Pathfinder and beloved leader of the National and World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union."

The Frances Willard House Museum and Archives is located in Evanston, Illinois.[16]

The Frances E. Willard School in Philadelphia was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.[17]

The Frances Willard Schoolhouse in Janesville, Wisconsin was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.[18]

Frances Willard Avenue in Chico, California is named in her honor. She was a guest of John and Annie Bidwell, the town founders and also leaders in the prohibitionist movement. The avenue is adjacent to the Bidwell Mansion.

The Frances E. Willard Temperance Hospital operated under that name from 1929 to 1936 in Chicago. It is now Loretto Hospital.[19]


The loves of women for each other grow more numerous each day, and I have pondered much why these things were. That so little should be said about them surprises me, for they are everywhere.... In these days when any capable and careful woman can honorably earn her own support, there is no village that has not its examples of 'two hearts in counsel,' both of which are feminine.
Frances Willard, The Autobiography of an American Woman: Glimpses of Fifty Years, 1889

Contemporary accounts described Willard's friendships and her pattern of long-term domestic assistance from women.[20][21][22] She formed the strongest friendships with co-workers.[23] It is difficult to redefine Willard's 19th century life in terms of the culture and norms of later centuries, but some scholars describe her inclinations and actions as aligned with same-sex emotional alliance (what historian Judith M. Bennett calls "lesbian-like")[24] [25][26][27][28][29]

Controversy over civil rights issues[edit]

Frances Willard often came into conflict with progressive African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells. In their push to expose the evils of alcohol, Willard and other temperance reformers often depicted alcohol as a substance that incited black criminality and implicitly made the argument that this was a serious problem requiring a serious cure.[30] The rift first surfaced during Wells' first visit to Britain in 1893, when Willard was already a popular speaker. Wells openly questioned Willard's position on lynching in the United States and accused Willard of having pandered to the racist myth that white women were in constant danger of rape from lusty, drunken black males to avoid endangering WCTU efforts in the South. She recounted a time when Willard had visited the South and blamed the failure of the temperance movement there on the population. "The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt," she was reported to have said, and "the grog shop is its center of power.... The safety of women, of childhood, of the home is menaced in a thousand localities."[31]

Willard repeatedly denied Wells' accusations and wrote that "the attitude of the society [WCTU] toward the barbarity of lynching has been more pronounced than that of any other association in the United States," [32] and she maintained that her primary focus was upon empowering and protecting women. While it is true that neither Willard nor the WCTU had ever spoken out against lynching, the WCTU had actively recruited black women and included them in their membership. After their acrimonious exchange, Willard explicitly stated her opposition to lynching and successfully urged the WCTU to pass a resolution against lynching. She, however, continued to condone the kind of rhetoric that Wells alleged incited lynching.[33]

The rhetoric was intimately tied to the allowance of lynchings in the South as white women were seen as symbols of innocence and purity that black men could not resist raping. That rhetoric is exactly Wells discusses in her pamphlets Southern Horrors and The Red Record.


  • Woman and temperance, or the work and workers of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Hartford, Conn.: Park Pub. Co., 1883.
  • "Frances E. Willard," in Our famous women: an authorized record of the lives and deeds of distinguished American women of our times... Hartford, Conn.: A.D. Worthington, 1884.
  • Glimpses of fifty years: the autobiography of an American woman. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1889.
  • How to Win: A Book For Girls NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886. reprinted 1887 & 1888.
  • Nineteen beautiful years, or, sketches of a girl's life. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publication Association, 1886.
  • A Classic Town: The Story of Evanston, Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, Chicago, 1891.
  • Woman's Christian Temperance Union. President. President's Annual Address 1891
  • Do everything: a handbook for the world's white ribboners. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, [1895?].
  • A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle 1895.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Willard, Frances (2002). Donawerth, Jane, ed. Rhetorical Theory by Women before 1900: an Anthology. Rowmand and Littlefield. pp. 241–254. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  2. ^ hedrick, Amanda (10 April 2011). "Progressive Protestantism: the Life of Frances Willard, 1839-1896". American Religious Experience. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  3. ^ a b Bordin, Ruth Brirgitta Anderson (1986). Frances Willard: A Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1697-3. 
  4. ^ a b "Frances E. Willard: Years of Challenge (1859-1874)". Illinois During the Gilded Age, 1866-1896. Northern Illinois University Libraries. 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  5. ^ a b "Frances Willard". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 July 2013. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  6. ^ Robbins, Lousie Barnum (1898). History and minutes of the National Council of Women of the United States, organized in Washington, D.C., March 31, 1888. Boston: E.B. Stillings & Co. 
  7. ^ "Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (1839-1898)". Women Christian Temperance Union. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  8. ^ Burt, Elizabeth V., ed. (2000). Women's Press Organizations, 1881-1999. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-313-30661-3. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  9. ^ Willard, Frances Elizabeth. Home protection manual. New York: Published at "The Independent" office, 1879.
  10. ^ a b c Willard, Frances E. (1890). A White Life for Two. Chicago: Women's Temperance Publishing Association. 
  11. ^ Frances Willard, "Speech At Queen's Hall, London," June 9, 1894, in Citizen and Home Guard, July 23, 1894, WCTU series, roll 41, frame 27. Reprinted as "The Average Woman," in Slagell, "Good Woman Speaking Well," 619-625.
  12. ^ Kraditor, Aileen S. (17 April 1981). The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920. W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0393000399. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  13. ^ Bordin, Ruth (1986). Frances Willard: A Biography. The University of North Carolina Press. 
  14. ^ Briggs-Wall, Henrietta (1911). "American Woman and Her Political Peers". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  15. ^ Ross Evans Paulson (1997). Liberty, Equality, and Justice: Civil Rights, Women's Rights, and the Regulation of Business, 1865-1932. Duke UP. p. 87. 
  16. ^ Frances Willard House Museum and Archives Website Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  17. ^ Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  18. ^ "Frances Willard Schoolhouse". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  19. ^ "The History of Loretto Hospital". Loretto Hospital. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  20. ^ Baker, Jean H. (2006). Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists. New York City: Macmillan Publishers. p. 149. ISBN 0-8090-8703-0. 
  21. ^ Morrow, Deana F.; Lori Messinger (2006). Sexual orientation and gender expression in social work practice: working with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. New York City: Columbia University Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-231-12728-6. 
  22. ^ Faderman, Lillian (2000). To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done For America - A History. New York City: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 31, 354. ISBN 0-618-05697-1. 
  23. ^ Faderman, Lillian (1991). Odd girls and twilight lovers: a history of lesbian life in twentieth-century America. New York City: Columbia University Press. pp. 11, 16. ISBN 0-231-07488-3. 
  24. ^ "Lesbian-Like" and the Social History of Lesbianisms
  25. ^ Lerner, Gerda (September 1987). "Where Biographers Fear to Tread". Women's Review of Books. Old City Publishing. 4 (12): 11–12. doi:10.2307/4020149. ISSN 0738-1433. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  26. ^ Burns, Eric (2004). The spirits of America: a social history of alcohol. Temple University Press. pp. 123–126. ISBN 1-59213-269-3. 
  27. ^ Gustav-Wrathall, John Donald (1998). Take the young stranger by the hand: same-sex relations and the YMCA. University of Chicago Press. p. 199. ISBN 0-226-90784-8. 
  28. ^ Faderman, Lillian (1998). Surpassing the love of men: romantic friendship and love between women from the Renaissance to the present. New York City: Harper Collins. ISBN 0-688-13330-4. 
  29. ^ Rich, Adrienne (Summer 1980). "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience". Signs. University of Chicago Press. 5 (4): 631–660. doi:10.1086/493756. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  30. ^ Dray, Philip (2002). At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America. New York City: Modern Library. pp. 85, 106–107. ISBN 978-0-375-75445-6. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  31. ^ Giddings, Paula J. (3 March 2008). Ida: A Sword Among Lions. p. 91. ISBN 978-0060797362. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  32. ^ "About Southern Lynchings," Baltimore Herald, 20 October 1895 (Temperance and Prohibition Papers microfilm (1977), section III, reel 42, scrapbook 70, frame 153).
  33. ^ Hackett, Amy (2004). ""Cloaking an Apology for Lawlessness": Ida B. Wells, Frances Willard and the Lynching Controversy, 1890-1894". University of Massachusetts Boston. 


  • Baker, Jean H. Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists Hill and Wang, New York, 2005 ISBN 0-8090-9528-9.
  • Gordon, Anna Adams The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard, Chicago, 1898
  • McCorkindale, Isabel Frances E. Willard centenary book (Adelaide, 1939) Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Australia, 2nd ed.
  • Strachey, Ray Frances Willard, her life and work - with an introduction by Lady Henry Somerset, New York, Fleming H. Revell (1913)

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]