Frances Willard (suffragist)

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


She was born to a schoolteacher in Churchville, New York but spent most of her childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin. She moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was 18.

Willard was elected president of the United States Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1879, a position which she held for life. She created the Formed Worldwide W.C.T.U. in 1883, and was elected its president in 1888.

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

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

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.

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.

Public honors

She was publicly honored many times during her life by persons of prominence in government and society in many lands. Carrie Chapman Catt, Pi Beta Phi, said of her, "There has never been a woman leader in this country greater than nor perhaps so great as Frances Willard." She was called the "best loved woman in America". and her close friend, John Greenleaf Whittier, called her "the noblest woman of her age" in 1888.

The oldest building of the University of Mary Washington, Frances Willard Hall, is named in her honor. In 1940, she was portrayed on a U.S. postage stamp. A dormitory at Northwestern University, Willard Residential College, was named after her. She was honored in a plaque in School #80 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Evanston, Illinois home where she lived and worked from 1865 until her death in 1898 has been preserved and made into a museum in honor of her memory. Frances Willard Avenue in Chico, California is named in her honor. There is also an elementary school named in her honor in Evanston. Frances Willard Middle School and the adjoining park in Berkeley, California are named in her honor, as are Frances E. Willard Middle School in Piedmont, Alabama, Frances Willard Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa, and Frances E. Willard School in Rosemead, California.

Written into South Carolina Law: SECTION 53-3-20. Frances Willard Day. The fourth Friday in October in each year shall be set apart and designated in the public schools as Frances Willard Day and in each public school it shall be the duty of such school to prepare and render a suitable program on the day to the end that the children of the State may be taught the evils of intemperance.


Frances Willard expressed views that conflicted with a fellow progressive, the African-American journalist Ida B. Wells. Wells accused Willard of supporting the stereotype of white women needing to be protected against black men, which conflicted with Well's own efforts to dispel that stereotype, as well as accusing Willard of not speaking out against the lynching of black men. Willard repeatedly denied Wells' accusation and maintained that her primary focus was upon empowering and protecting women. (Willard's WCTU actively recruited black women and included them in its membership.)


  • 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



  • Baker, Jean H. Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists. Hill and Wang, New York, 2005. ISBN 0-8090-9528-9.
  • Gordon, The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard, (Chicago, 1898)
  • Alpha Phi International Fraternity

External links

[[de:Frances Willard]

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