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Nebraska Wesleyan University
Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard was born September 28, 1839, in Churchville, New York. She lived there with her parents, Josiah Willard and Mary Thompson Hill Willard, and her older brother Oliver, until 1841 when the family moved to Oberlin, Ohio. In 1846 the family, with the addition of sister Mary, moved to southeastern Wisconsin to a farm near Janesville. Willard spent most of her childhood there.
The Willard Family Moves to Evanston
In 1858, at age 18, Willard moved with her family to Evanston to attend North Western Female College, a Methodist-affiliated secondary school. She graduated in 1859 and began a teaching career that included both one room schools in nearby towns and, as her reputation grew, more prestigious positions in secondary schools in Pennsylvania and New York. During this time she was engaged to Charles Henry Fowler, an Evanston resident and classmate of her brother, and later had a romance with a fellow teacher at Genessee College in New York. Neither relationship ended in marriage, though, and Willard remained single throughout her life.
In 1871 Willard became president of the newly formed Evanston College for Ladies. When this college merged with Northwestern University in 1873, Willard became the first Dean of Women of the Women's College. In 1874, after months of disagreement with university President Charles Henry Fowler (her former fiancé) over her governance of the Women's College, Willard resigned. That summer she began to pursue a new career in the fledgling woman's temperance movement, traveling to the east coast and participating in one of the many crusades. When she returned to Evanston, she was asked to be president of the Chicago group supporting the crusades.
Frances Willard and the WCTU
In November 1874 Willard participated in the founding convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and was elected the first corresponding secretary of the WCTU. As such she corresponded with, and traveled to, many of the small towns and cities in the United States, working to form local Unions and build support for the WCTU's cause. In 1877 she met Anna Gordon and asked her to be her personal secretary. Gordon was a great help to Willard for the rest of her life, providing key organizational expertise as well as friendship. Willard worked hard during these early years to broaden the WCTU's reform movement to include such things as woman's suffrage, woman's rights, education reforms and labor reforms. The support for this broader view of the WCTU's reform work became clear when Willard was elected President of the WCTU in 1879.