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Frances Willard
Born Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard
September 28, 1839(1839-09-28)
Churchville, New York U.S.
Died February 17, 1898 (aged 58)

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (September 28, 1839 – February 17, 1898) was an American educator, temperance reformer, and women's suffragist.



She was born to a schoolteacher in Churchville, New York, near Rochester, New York but spent most of her childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin. During the family’s stay in Wisconsin, they converted from Congregationalists to Methodists, a Protestant denomination that placed an emphasis on the Christian home unit, centered on the pious wife and mother. [1] She moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was 18 to attend North Western Female College. [2]

In 1871 she became president of Evanston College for Ladies, which merged with Northwestern University in 1873, at which time she 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.[3]

After her resignation, Willard focused her energies on a new career, travelling the American East Coast participating in the woman’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 she participated in the creation of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) where she was elected the first corresponding secretary [4]

Willard was elected president of the Woman's National Council of the United States, in 1879, a position which she held for the remainder of her life. She created the Formed Worldwide WCTU in 1883, and was elected its president in 1888 [5]. 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.” [6] 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. [7] The desire for “home protection” gave the average woman a societally 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.”[8]

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

The famous portrait, American Woman and her Political Peers,[9] commissioned by Henrietta Briggs-Wall in 1893, featured 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.

Her influence was instrumental in the passage of the Eighteenth (Prohibition) and Nineteenth (Women Suffrage) Amendments to the United States Constitution.

She founded the magazine The Union Signal, and was its editor from 1892 through 1898.

She wrote Woman and Temperance, Nineteen Beautiful Years, A Great Mother, Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman (1889), and the popular bestseller, A Wheel within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle (1895), as well as large number of magazine articles. Indeed, Willard's promotion of bicycling to her "White Ribbon Army" has been recognized as an overt attempt to domesticate the bicycle and bicycling.[10]

Willard was the first woman represented 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. She died of influenza at the Empire Hotel in New York City while preparing to set sail for a visit to England France and bequeathed her Evanston, IL home to the WCTU and in 1965 it was elevated to the status of National Landmark, the Frances Willard House.


  • 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 Publication 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.
  • 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 Pub. Association, [1895?].
  • A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle. 1895.
  • Let something good be said : speeches and writings of Frances E. Willard / edited by Carolyn De Swarte Gifford and Amy R. Slagell. 2007


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bordin, Ruth Birgitta Anderson. 1986. Frances Willard: A biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Bordin, Ruth Birgitta Anderson. 1986. Frances Willard: A biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  5. ^ Women Christian Temperance Union.Francis Willard(Evanston, 1996-2008)
  6. ^ Willard, Frances Elizabeth. Home protection manual. New York: Published at “The Independent: office, 1879.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Kraditor, Aileen S. 1971. The ideas of the woman suffrage movement, 1890-1920. Garden City,: Anchor Books.
  9. ^
  10. ^ P.G. Mackintosh and G. Norcliffe (2007) Women and Men and the Bicycle: Gender and the Geography of Cycling in the Late Nineteenth Century, in D. Horton, P. Rosen, and P. Cox (Eds), Cycling in Society, Transport and Society Series (Aldershot, Ashgate), pp. 153-177.


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