Villard, Fanny Garrison (1844–1928)

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Villard, Fanny Garrison (1844–1928)

American philanthropist, suffragist, and activist . Name variations: Helen Frances Garrison. Born Helen Frances Garrison on December 16, 1844, in Boston, Massachusetts; died on July 5, 1928, in Dobbs Ferry, New York; daughter of William Lloyd Garrison (the abolitionist) and Helen Eliza (Benson) Garrison; educated at the Winthrop school in Boston; married Henry Villard (a newspaper publisher and businessman), on January 3, 1866 (died 1900); children: Helen Villard; Oswald Garrison Villard; Harold Garrison Villard; Henry Hilgard Villard.

Cofounded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909); founded the Women's Peace Party with Jane Addams (1915); founded the Women's Peace Society (1919); participated in the founding of Barnard and Radcliffe colleges; published William Lloyd Garrison and Non-Resistance (1924).

Fanny Garrison Villard, the fourth of seven children and only daughter of famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and Helen Benson Garrison , was born in Boston in 1844 at the height of her father's anti-slavery crusade. She grew up both inspired by her father's activism and aware of its perils, although the latter never prevented her from having the courage of her convictions. Villard's lifelong respect for her father's work inspired her to write William Lloyd Garrison and Non-Resistance, which was published in 1924, only four years before her death at the age of 83.

Villard was educated at Boston's Winthrop school and then taught the piano to help support the family until her marriage to German immigrant Henry Villard in 1866. Henry's early career as a newspaper correspondent was transformed into the politically influential role of publisher of the New York Evening Post and the Nation after substantial financial success in the 1870s, when he became president of the Northern Pacific Railroad and co-founder of the Edison General Electric Company.

The first decade of the Villards' marriage was spent traveling for business extensively in the United States and Europe, and rearing four children: Helen Villard , Oswald Garrison Villard, Harold Garrison Villard, and Henry Hilgard Villard (who died at seven). In 1876 the family settled in New York City.

Her husband's business success gave Fanny Villard the leisure and wealth she needed to pursue a life of activism and philanthropy, and his purchase of the two journals in 1881 meant that she was in frequent contact with national political leaders. In 1878, she took up her first charity, the Diet Kitchen Association, serving as president from 1898 to 1922 and becoming a dedicated consumer activist for nutritional education and milk stations.

The 1880s and 1890s saw Villard spending increasingly large amounts of time and money on charity work. Particularly concerned with the educational opportunities for blacks and women, she took an active role in the founding of both Barnard and Radcliffe colleges, the American College for Women in Constantinople, and numerous schools for black students in New York and the South, including Hampton Institute in Virginia. Sharing her father's beliefs in freedom and nonviolence, Villard was a cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Although her active involvement in charitable and educational institutions continued into the 20th century, Villard's interests shifted to the political realm after her husband's death in 1900 and her son Oswald's rise to prominence as the outspoken, liberal editor of the New York Evening Post. Her decades of experience in charity work and exposure to social agencies resulted in a new perspective on the causes of urban poverty, and she began looking beyond work with individuals in order to effect a more profound social change.

In 1906, she became a member of the suffrage movement, joining three New York suffrage clubs and serving as president of one, the William Lloyd Garrison Equal Suffrage Club. A tireless speaker at debates, public meetings, suffrage street parades, and legislative hearings, Villard expounded on her belief that suffrage held great promise for both the "welfare and moral uplift" of the American people.

The second great cause of Villard's life was the peace movement. In 1915, she was a cofounder of the Women's Peace Party, under the presidency of Jane Addams , giving the cause of nonviolence her total attention after the success of the New York suffrage referendum in 1917. Opposed to United States involvement in World War I, Villard led peace parades, lobbied political figures—including the president—and spoke at conventions and public forums. Her vehement pacifism resulted in her leaving the executive board of the party in 1917, after the United States entered the war, and devoting her time and money to refugee relief and aid for conscientious objectors. In 1919, she founded her own Women's Peace Society in New York on a platform of total disarmament and nonresistance.

An extremely attractive and warm-hearted woman, Villard was considered by contemporaries to be indefatigable rather than fanatical. Her son once described her as "certain of the triumph of every cause to which she gave her devotion." Her idealism was put to the test in the last decades of her life, but she remained both resolutely unreligious and politically active into the 1920s. Villard died of heart disease at the family estate in Dobbs Ferry, New York, at age 83, and was buried in the nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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Villard, Fanny Garrison (1844–1928)

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