Willard’s Early Life
Frances Willard was born in 1839. Her full name was Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard. She was sturdy, independent, and very strong-willed. Friends called her Frank.
She graduated college in 1859. Twelve years later became president of a women’s college herself. When it merged with Northwestern University, she became dean of women there. She resigned in 1874 because of conflicts with the university president.
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 society. Then she became corresponding secretary of the national Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). All of this within within only one year.
Willard soon had conflicts with the president of the national WCTU and left it. For more, see Non-partisan WCTU.
With her companion, Anna Gordon, she obtained over 100,000 signatures on a Home Protection petition. It called on the Illinois 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.
She wrote many articles fo the WCTU. Her autobiography is Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman, The book was published by the WCTU in 1889. It was most recently re-published in 2013. Copies of her book are widely available in libraries.
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 either women’s suffrage or National Prohibition began. She would have been pleased.
A statue of Frances Willard stands in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.
- American National Biography.
- Thomas, T. Illiberal Reformers. Princeton U Press.