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 18, 1898(1898-02-18) (aged 58)
New York, New York
Cause of death Influenza
Nationality American
Occupation University Dean; political reformer; women's suffragist
Known for Woman's Christian Temperance Union

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 for 19 years. She developed the slogan "do everything" for the WCTU, pressing its membership to engage in lobbying, petitioning, preaching, publishing, and education. Her vision progressed to include federal aid to education, free school lunches, unions for workers, the eight-hour work day, work relief for the poor, municipal sanitation and boards of health, national transportation, strong anti-rape laws, protections against child abuse,[1] and Henry George's Single-tax land reform theories.[2]


Frances Willard

Frances Willard was born to Josiah Flint Willard and Mary Thompson Hill Willard in Churchville, near Rochester, New York. But she spent most of her childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin. She was named after English novelist Frances (Fanny) Burney, the American poet Frances Osgood, and her sister who had died the previous year, Caroline Elizabeth. She had two siblings, Mary and Oliver, and was born the middle child. Her father was a farmer, naturalist, and legislator while her mother was a schoolteacher.[1] He had originally moved to Oberlin, Ohio, to be part of the ministry there. During the family's stay in Wisconsin, they converted from Congregationalists to Methodists,[3] a Protestant denomination that placed an emphasis on social justice and service to the world. In 1858, the Willard family moved to Illinois so that Mary and Frances could attend college and their brother Oliver could go to the Garrett Biblical Institute. Willard had three years of formal education. She attended Milwaukee Normal Institute where her mother's sister was a teacher, and she attended North Western Female College in Illinois.[1] She moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was 18.[4] Willard's time at the Northwestern Female College led her to become a teacher. She held various teaching positions until she became the President of Evanston College for Ladies. She held this position on two separate occasions, once in 1871 and again in 1873. She was also the first Dean of Women for Northwestern University.

In the 1860s, Willard suffered a series of personal crises: both her father and her younger sister Mary died, her brother became an alcoholic. Meanwhile, she became a friend of her future sister-in-law.[5] 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 due to her resignation in 1874 after confrontations with the University President, Charles Henry Fowler, over her governance of the Women's College.[5] 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 fifty-day speaking tour in 1874, an average of 30,000 miles 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.[4] That 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 later resigned from the Chicago WCTU in 1877, but in 1879 sought presidency of the National WCTU and held the post until her death.[6] 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.[7] She created the Formed Worldwide WCTU in 1883, and became its president in 1888.[8] Willard also founded the magazine The Union Signal, and served as its editor from 1892 through 1898. She collaborated closely with Lady Henry Somerset, whom she visited several times in the United Kingdom.

Willard joined with Elziabeth Boynton Harbert, Mary Ellen West, Frances Conant and forty-three others in 1885 in the founding the Illinois Woman's Press Association.[9]

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."[10] These "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.[11] 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.[12] 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, stating "Politics is the place for woman."[13] 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."[11]

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."[11]

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. She became their first president in 1888 and continued until 1890.[6]

Willard died quietly in her sleep [14] at the Empire Hotel in New York City, after contracting influenza while 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

The famous portrait, American Woman and her Political Peers,[15] commissioned by Henrietta Briggs-Wall in 1893, features Frances Willard at the center, surrounded by a convict, American Indian, lunatic, and an idiot. This 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. In her later years, Willard became a committed socialist and called for government ownership and control of all factories, railroads, and even theaters.[16]

The Frances Elizabeth Willard relief by Lorado Taft and commissioned by the National Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1929 is in the Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Indiana. The plaque commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Willard's election to 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 Francis 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 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][24] 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")[25] [23][26][27][28][29]

Controversy over civil rights issues

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, where 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, so as not to endanger 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 had 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, writing 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 maintained that her primary focus was upon empowering and protecting women. While it is true that up until that point 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 Wells alleged incited lynching.[33] This 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 but to rape. This rhetoric is exactly Wells discusses in her pamphlet, 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


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 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. "The Inquisitive Voter". The Great Adventure. 4 (35). September 11, 1920. The proposition of Henry George will do more to lift humanity from the slough of poverty, crime, and misery than all else. 
  3. hedrick, Amanda (10 April 2011). "Progressive Protestantism: the Life of Frances Willard, 1839-1896". American Religious Experience. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bordin, Ruth Brirgitta Anderson (1986). Frances Willard: A Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1697-3. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Frances E. Willard: Years of Challenge (1859-1874)". Illinois During the Gilded Age, 1866-1896. Northern Illinois University Libraries. 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Frances Willard". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 July 2013. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  7. 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. 
  8. "Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (1839-1898)". Women Christian Temperance Union. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  9. last=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. 
  10. Willard, Frances Elizabeth. Home protection manual. New York: Published at "The Independent" office, 1879.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Willard, Frances E. (1890). A White Life for Two. Chicago: Women's Temperance Publishing Association. 
  12. 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.
  13. 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. 
  14. Bordin, Ruth (1986). Frances Willard: A Biography. The University of North Carolina Press. 
  15. Briggs-Wall, Henrietta (1911). "American Woman and Her Political Peers". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  16. Okrent, Daniel (11 May 2010). Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Scribner. p. 17. ISBN 0743277023. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  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. 23.0 23.1 Lerner, Gerda (2009). Living with History/Making Social Change. University of North Carolina Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-8078-3293-6.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "lerner" defined multiple times with different content
  24. 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. 
  25. "Lesbian-Like" and the Social History of Lesbianisms
  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

External links