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Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard


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Frances' Childhood

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.

Frances E. Willard: About Us


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, but spent most of her childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin. She moved to Evanston, Illinois, when she was 18. Below you will find a list of the many ways her life is celebrated and her honored.

  • Elected president of the United States Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1879, a position that she held for life. 

  • She created the Formed Worldwide W.C.T.U. in 1883, and was elected its president in 1888.

  • Founded the magazine The Union Signal, and was its editor from 1892–1898.

  • Her tireless efforts for women's suffrage and prohibition included a 50-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. 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, and a large number of magazine articles.

  • First woman represented among the illustrious company of America’s greatest leaders in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.

  • National president of Alpha Phi in 1887.

  • First Dean of Women at Northwestern University.

  • 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.

  • 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, wrote of her: She knew the power of banded ill, but felt that LOVE was stronger still. And organized for doing good, The World's united womanhood.

  • 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.

  • Frances Willard Middle School and the adjoining park in Berkeley, California, are named in her honor.

  • Written into South Carolina Law: SECTION 53-3-20; Frances Willard Day. The 4th 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 E. Willard: About Us
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