Frances Willard: A Major Temperance Leader

Willard’s Early Life

Frances Willard was born in 1839. Her full name was Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard. She was sturdy. She was independent. And she was very strong-willed. Friends called her Frank.

She graduated college in 1859. Twelve years later became president of a women’s college. When it merged with Northwestern U, she became dean of women there. She resigned in 1874 because of conflicts with the college president.

Woman’s Crusade

That year an anti-alcohol movement emerged. Called the Woman’s Crusade. Or the Woman’s Temperance Crusade. Frances Willard was invited to become president of a Chicago temperance group. From this position she quickly advanced in that movement. She became secretary of the new statewide temperance grou. Then she became Secretary of the national Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). All of this within within only one year.

Frances WillardWillard soon had conflicts with the president of the national WCTU. So she left it. For more, see Non-partisan WCTU.

With her companion, Anna Gordon, she obtained over 100,000 signatures. It was on a Home Protection petition. It called on the IL legislature to let women to vote on any matter involving alcohol. The law failed to pass.

Willard then rejoined the national WCTU and was elected president. After much effort she failed to convince it to become politically active. She then formed the World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Willard was elected president.

Ms. Willard was also a leader in the national Prohibition Party.

Francis Willard opposed immigration of what she called “the scum of the Old world.” Willard was clearly a racist. She hoped a national prohibition movement would “weld the Anglo-Saxons of the New World into one royal family.”1 For more, see Prejudice and Prohibition.


She wrote many articles fo the WCTU. Her autobiography is Glimpses of Fifty Year (online). The book was published by the WCTU in 1889.

Ms. Willard was a persuasive speaker. A skilled lobbyist. And a very effective pressure politician. Her efforts advanced the cause of temperance. She died in 1898. This was before National Prohibition began. She would have been pleased.

A statue of Frances Willard stands in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.

Frances Willard


    1. Thomas, T. Illiberal Reformers. Princeton U Press.