Frances Willard (suffragist)

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Frances Willard
Frances Willard.jpg
BornFrances Elizabeth Caroline Willard
(1839-09-28)September 28, 1839
Churchville, New York
DiedFebruary 18, 1898(1898-02-18) (aged 58)
New York, New York
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Frances Willard
Frances Willard.jpg
BornFrances Elizabeth Caroline Willard
(1839-09-28)September 28, 1839
Churchville, New York
DiedFebruary 18, 1898(1898-02-18) (aged 58)
New York, New York

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 women of the WCTU to incite lobbying, petitioning, preaching, publication, 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, and protections against child abuse.[1]


Frances Willard

Willard was born to Josiah Flint Willard and Mary Thompson Hill Willard in Churchville, near Rochester, New York, but spent most of her childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin. Frances was named after English novelist Frances (Fanny) Burney, the American poet Frances Osgood, and her sister who had died the previous year, Caroline Elizabeth.[1] 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] Her father 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,[2] 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.[3] Willard's time at the Northwestern Female College led her to become a teacher and 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, and Willard herself began to feel love for a woman who would ultimately go on to marry her brother.[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.[1] In 1871 she became president of Evanston College for Ladies. That same year, the Evanston College for Ladies merged with Northwestern University and Willard became the 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.[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 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.[3] 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 ran and was elected president of the National WCTU in 1879.[5] Willard was elected the first president of the National Council of Women of the United States in 1888, a position which she held for the remainder of her life.[6] She created the Formed Worldwide WCTU in 1883, and was elected its president in 1888.[7] Willard also founded the magazine The Union Signal, and was 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 43 others in 1885 in the founding of 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 "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.[10] 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 that dependence was their nature and must join the movement to improve society, stating "Politics is the place for woman."[11] Her 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.[5]

Willard died of influenza at the Empire Hotel in New York City while preparing to set sail for a visit to England and France. She died quietly in her sleep.[12] She bequeathed her Evanston home to the WCTU and 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,[13] 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. (Last Call by Daniel Okrent. Pg 17. 2010.)

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.[14]

The Frances Willard Schoolhouse in Janesville was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.[15]

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.[16]


"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

To most modern historians, Willard is overtly identified as a lesbian,[17][18][19] while contemporary and slightly later accounts merely described her relationships, and her pattern of long-term domestic cohabitation with women, and allowed readers to draw their own conclusions.[20] Willard herself only ever formed long-term passionate relationships with women, and she stated as much in her autobiography.[21]

While it is difficult to define Willard's 19th century life in terms of the culture and norms of later centuries,[22] and while her relationships with women were possibly or probably sexually chaste,[23][24] in modern discourse arguments about what relationships are and are not properly called "lesbian" are not dependent on whether or not the relationship included sexual activity.[25][26]

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.[27] 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.

Willard repeatedly denied Wells' accusations 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. [28]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Willard, Frances (2002). Donawerth, Jane, ed. Rhetorical Theory by Women before 1900: an Anthology. Rowmand and Littlefield. pp. 241–254. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Bordin, Ruth Birgitta Anderson (1986). Frances Willard: A Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1697-3. 
  4. ^ a b Northern Illinois University Libraries (2007). "Frances E. Willard: Years of Challenge (1859-1874)". Illinois During the Gilded Age, 1866-1896. Northern Illinois University Libraries. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  5. ^ a b Encyclopaedia Britannica. Cambridge Press. 
  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. ^ Women Christian Temperance Union.Francis Willard(Evanston, 1996-2008)
  8. ^ Burt, Elizabeth V. (2000). Women's Press Organizations, 1881-1999. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-313-30661-3. 
  9. ^ Willard, Frances Elizabeth. Home protection manual. New York: Published at “The Independent: office, 1879.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Kraditor, Aileen S. 1971. The ideas of the woman suffrage movement, 1890-1920. Garden City,: Anchor Books.
  12. ^ Bordin, Ruth (1986). Frances Willard: A Biography. The University of North Carolina Press. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Baker, Jean H. (2006). Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists. New York City: Macmillan Publishers. p. 149. ISBN 0-8090-8703-0. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ Lerner, Gerda (2009). Living with History / Making Social Change. University of North Carolina Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-8078-3293-6. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ Burns, Eric (2004). The spirits of America: a social history of alcohol. Temple University Press. pp. 123–126. ISBN 1-59213-269-3. 
  23. ^ Gustav-Wrathall, John Donald (1998). Take the young stranger by the hand: same-sex relations and the YMCA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 199. ISBN 0-226-90784-8. 
  24. ^ Lerner, Gerda (1987). "Where Biographers Fear to Tread". Women's Review of Books (11): 11–12. 
  25. ^ 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. 
  26. ^ Rich, Adrienne (1980). "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience". Signs (5): 631–660. 
  27. ^ 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. OCLC 51330092. 
  28. ^ "Cloaking an Apology for Lawlessness": Ida B. Wells, Frances Willard and the Lynching Controversy, 1890-1894. University of Massachusetts Boston. 2004.  Unknown parameter |name= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)


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