Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

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Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (1839-1898) was a prominent American temperance crusader and women's suffrage leader.

Frances Willard was born on Sept. 28, 1839, in Churchville, N.Y. Her idealistic parents moved to Oberlin, Ohio, in 1841, where both attended college. In 1846 they moved to Janesville, Wis. Frances (or "Frank," as she was called), her elder brother, and younger sister lived vigorous youths, despite the intense moral tone at home. At the age of 18 Frances informed her father that she would thenceforward determine right and wrong for herself. Her views, however, were a modernization of, rather than a deviation from, her parents'.

In 1857 Miss Willard attended Milwaukee Female College, moving the next year to Northwestern Female College. She was class valedictorian. In 1860 she began teaching and three years later taught science at Northwestern. She taught successively at Pittsburgh Female College and Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in New York. She also wrote essays. Her first book, Nineteen Beautiful Years (1864), memorialized her deceased sister. During 1869-1870 she toured Europe, spending some time at the Colle'ge de France and the Sorbonne.

Appointed president of Northwestern Female College in 1871, Miss Willard was ambitious to see women's opportunities expanded. When the college merged with Northwestern University, she became her college's dean and professor of esthetics. By 1874 she was convinced that her program would not be aided, and she resigned.

That year was a revivalist one for temperance advocates; Miss Willard participated in prayer and singing sessions. Rejecting outstanding teaching opportunities, she accepted the presidency of the Chicago Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and rose rapidly as secretary of the state organization and then of the national organization. By 1881, when she became president of the WCTU, she was an outstanding lecturer, organizer, writer, and policy maker. Her distinguished presence—warm, clear-minded, and eloquent, with an attractive sense of humor— was one of the WCTU's principal assets.

Miss Willard's unique contribution was her feeling that women's work and views were needed in all fields. One of her most famous slogans was "Do Everything." This point of view was opposed by temperance advocates who narrowed their goals to suppressing the liquor trade. Though Miss Willard helped form the Prohibition party, which influenced the election of 1884, she was also concerned about women's suffrage, peace, labor problems, "social purity" (a topic which many of her associates found indelicate), and Populism, among other causes. Her innumerable correspondents, audiences, conferences, projects, and devoted admirers took her to all parts of the country and abroad. In 1891 she became president of the World's WCTU. Her influence was especially strong in Great Britain. During a visit to New York City she developed influenza and died on Feb. 17, 1898.

Further Reading

Francis Willard's Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman (1889) reflects her era and its goals. Mary Earhart, Frances Willard (1944), is judicious and scholarly. Ray Strachey, Frances Willard (1912), helps explain what Miss Willard meant to her generation. Anna Adams Gordon, The Life of Frances E. Willard (1898; rev. ed. 1912), though adulatory, contains valuable abstracts of Frances Willard's writings.

Additional Sources

Bordin, Ruth Birgitta Anderson, Frances Willard: a biography, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Leeman, Richard W., "Do everything" reform: the oratory of Frances E. Willard, New York: Greenwood Press, 1992. □

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Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

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