Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

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Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

Birthdate: (58)
Birthplace: Churchville, Monroe, New York, United States
Death: February 17, 1898 (58)
New York, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Chicago, Cook, Illiinois, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Josiah Flint Willard and Mary Thompson Willard
Sister of Oliver Willard; Caroline Elizabeth Willard; Mary E. Willard and Ella Jane Luce Adopted

Managed by: Carol Ann Selis
Last Updated:

About Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

Held DAR membership # 243

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (September 28, 1839 – February 17, 1898) was an American educator, temperance reformer, and women's suffragist. Her influence was instrumental in the passage of the Eighteenth (Prohibition) and Nineteenth (Women Suffrage) Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Willard became the national president of the World Woman's Christian Temperance Union, or World WCTU, in 1879, and remained president for 19 years. She developed the slogan "Do everything" for the women of the WCTU to incite lobbying, petitioning, preaching, publication, and education. Her vision progressed to include federal aid to education, free school lunches, unions for workers, the eight-hour work day, work relief for the poor, municipal sanitation and boards of health, national transportation, strong anti-rape laws, and protections against child abuse.


Willard was born to Josiah Flint Willard and Mary Thompson Hill Willard in Churchville, near Rochester, New York but spent most of her childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin. Frances was named after English novelist Frances (Fanny) Burney, the American poet: Frances Osgood, and her sister who had died the previous year, Caroline Elizabeth. She had two siblings, Mary and Oliver, and was born the middle child. Her father was a farmer, naturalist, and legislator while her mother was a schoolteacher. Her father had originally moved to Oberlin, Ohio, to be part of the ministry there. During the family’s stay in Wisconsin, they converted from Congregationalists to Methodists, a Protestant denomination that placed an emphasis on social justice and service to the world. In 1858 the Willard family moved to Illinois so that Mary and Frances could attend college and their brother Oliver could go to the Garrett Biblical Institute. Willard had three years of formal education. She attended Milwaukee Normal Institute where her mother's sister was a teacher, and she attended North Western Female College in Illinois. She moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was 18. Willard's time at the Northwestern Female College led her to become a teacher and she held various teaching positions until she became the President of Evanston College for Ladies. She held this position on two separate occasions, once in 1871 and again in 1873. She was also the first Dean of Women for Northwestern University.

In the 1860s, Willard suffered a series of personal crises: both her father and her younger sister Mary died, her brother became an alcoholic, and Willard herself began to feel love for a woman who would ultimately go on to marry her brother. Willard's family underwent financial difficulty due to her brother's excessive gambling and drinking, and Willard was unable to receive financial support from them. In 1869, Willard was involved in the founding of Evanston Ladies' College.

In 1870, the college united with the former North Western Female College. In 1871 she became president of Evanston College for Ladies. That same year, the Evanston College for Ladies merged with Northwestern University and Willard became the first Dean of Women of the Women’s College. However that position was to be short-lived due to her resignation in 1874 after confrontations with the University President, Charles Henry Fowler, over her governance of the Women’s College. Willard had previously been engaged to Fowler.

After her resignation, Willard focused her energies on a new career, traveling the American East Coast participating in the women’s temperance movement. 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.

In 1874 Willard participated in the creation of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) where she was elected the first corresponding secretary.[6] That same year, she was invited to become the President of the Chicago WCTU; and accepted the position. In 1876, she became head of the national WCTU publications committee. She later resigned from the Chicago WCTU in 1877, but ran and was elected president of the National WCTU in 1879. Willard was elected the first president of the National Council of Women of the United States in 1888, a position which she held for the remainder of her life. She created the Formed Worldwide WCTU in 1883, and was elected its president in 1888. Willard also founded the magazine The Union Signal, and was its editor from 1892 through 1898.

As president of the WCTU, the crux of Willard’s argument for female suffrage was based on the platform of "Home Protection," which she described as "the movement...the object of which is to secure for all women above the age of twenty-one years the ballot as one means for the protection of their homes from the devastation caused by the legalized traffic in strong drink." The "Home Protection" argument was used to garner the support of the "average woman," who was told to be suspicious of female suffragists by the patriarchal press, religious authorities, and society. The desire for "home protection" gave the average woman a socially appropriate avenue to seek out enfranchisement. Willard insisted that women must forgo the notion that they were the "weaker" sex and that dependence was their nature and must join the movement to improve society, stating "Politics is the place for woman." Her work took to an international scale in 1883 with the circulation of the "Polyglot Petition" against the international drug trade. She also joined May Wright Sewell at the International Council of Women meeting in Washington, DC laying the permanent foundation for the National Council of Women. She became their first president in 1888; and continued until 1890.

Willard died of influenza at the Empire Hotel in New York City while preparing to set sail for a visit to England and France. She died quietly in her sleep. She bequeathed her Evanston home to the WCTU and in 1965 it was elevated to the status of National Historic Landmark, the Frances Willard House.

Memorials and portrayals

The famous portrait, "American Woman and her Political Peers", commissioned by Henrietta Briggs-Wall in 1893, features Frances Willard at the center, surrounded by a convict, American Indian, lunatic, and an idiot. This image succinctly portrayed the argument for female enfranchisement; without the right to vote, the educated, respectable woman was equated with the other outcasts of society to whom the franchise was denied.

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 and called for government ownership and control of all factories, railroads, and even theaters. (Last Call by Daniel Okrent. Pg 17. 2010.)

The Frances Elizabeth Willard relief by Lorado Taft and commissioned by the National Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1929 is in the Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Indiana. The plaque commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Willard's election to president of the WCTU on October 31, 1879.


"each day, and I have pondered much why these things were. That so little should be said about them surprises me, for they are everywhere ... In these days when any capable and careful woman can honorably earn her own support, there is no village that has not its examples of 'two hearts in counsel,' both of which are feminine."

--Frances Willard
The Autobiography of an American Woman: Glimpses of Fifty Years, 1889

To most modern historians, Willard is overtly identified as a lesbian, while contemporary and slightly later accounts merely described her relationships, and her pattern of long-term domestic cohabitation with women, and allowed readers to draw their own conclusions. Willard herself only ever formed long-term passionate relationships with women, and she stated as much in her autobiography.

While it is difficult to define Willard's 19th century life in terms of the culture and norms of later centuries, and while her relationships with women were possibly or probably sexually chaste, in modern discourse arguments about what relationships are and are not properly called "lesbian" are not dependent on whether or not the relationship included sexual activity.

Controversy over civil rights issues

Frances Willard often came into conflict with progressive African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells. In their push to expose the evils of alcohol, Willard and other temperance reformers often depicted alcohol as a substance that incited black criminality, and implicitly made the argument that this was a serious problem requiring a serious cure. The rift first surfaced during Wells' first visit to Britain in 1893, where Willard was already a popular speaker. Wells openly questioned Willard's position on lynching in the United States, and accused Willard of having pandered to the racist myth that white women were in constant danger of rape from lusty, drunken black males, so as not to endanger WCTU efforts in the South.

Wells' ire at Willard had its genesis in a number of remarks Willard had made to The Voice, a temperance newspaper in New York City:

Alien illiterates ... rule our cities today; the saloon is their palace, and the toddy stick their sceptre. It is not fair that they should vote, nor is it fair that a plantation Negro, who can neither read nor write, whose ideas are bounded by the fence of his own field and the price of his own mule, should be entrusted with the ballot ... The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt. The grog-shop is their center of power. The safety of women, of childhood, of the home is menaced in a thousand localities at this moment.

Wells' accusations were part of larger African-American critique of the temperance movement, which had always focused on post-Reconstruction blacks as a special class, with the idea that black people, like children, could not be expected to behave responsibly if left to their own devices and were just problems waiting to happen, and therefore needed to be protected from negative influences. When Wells returned to Britain in 1894, she brought a copy of the article with her, and openly mocked Willard and the temperance movement for its attention to the "evils" of card playing, sports and lewd dancing, while "during all the years which men, women, and children were scourged, hanged, shot and burned, the WCTU had no word, either of pity or protest. Its great heart, which concerns itself about humanity the world over was, toward our cause, pulseless as a stone."

Wells attempted to have Willard's remarks publicized in Britain by republishing the article, but was blocked by Lady Henry Somerset, Willard's lover and host in the United Kingdom, who threatened to use her influence to make sure Wells would never have another speaking engagement in Britain.

Willard repeatedly denied Wells' accusations and maintained that her primary focus was upon empowering and protecting women. And while it is true that up until that point neither Willard nor the WCTU had ever spoken out against lynching, the WCTU had actively recruited black women and included them in their membership. After their acrimonious exchange, Willard explicitly stated her opposition to lynching, and the WTCU passed a resolution stating as much as well.


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 Publishing 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.
A Classic Town: The Story of Evanston, Chicago, Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1891.
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 Publishing Association, [1895?].
A Wheel Within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle. 1895.


Frances Elizabeth Willard

Born: 28 Sep 1839

Churchville, Monroe, New York, USA

Died: 18 Feb 1898

NY, [county], New York, USA


Frances Elizabeth Willard was born September 28, 1839, in Churchville, New York. Her parents were Josiah Flint Willard and Mrs. Mary Thompson Hill Willard. Her brother, Oliver, was five years her senior.

In 1842 they removed to Oberlin where her sister, Mary was born. In April, 1846, the family started for the West, reaching Janesville May 20th and settling in June at Forest Home, four miles from Janesville.

Milwaukee Female College 1852 In 1848 Mr. Willard was a member of the legislature at Madison. The mother taught the children in the bright warm kitchen by the light of the candles she made with her own hands. In 1853 a school house was built. There the children went to school until in 1857, Frances and Mary attended the Milwaukee Seminary where Mrs. Willard's sister, Sarah Hill, was teacher. In 1858, Frances and Mary attended the Evanston College for ladies. Frances taught the home school during the summer. The two sisters returned to the Evanston school in 1859. Frances so overburdened herself with study at this time that she fell asleep with her head buried in Butler's "Analogy." She was appointed valedictorian of her class. Because of her illness, she received her diploma in bed.

In the autumn the family removed to Evanston. After her graduation Frances taught continuously until 1868. This year she and her friend, Miss Kate Jackson made an extended tour of the world. Miss Willard climbed the Pyramids of Egypt, and far above the others on an eminence she said: "Let us have plain living and high thinking."

Returning to Evanston in 1870 she became Preceptress of her Alma Mater. In 1873 she became the Dean of Women of the Woman's College of Northwestern University and Professor of Aesthetics in the College of Liberal Arts. At the same time, the writer entered Northwestern University as a student and was thus privileged to be under her tutelage that year.

Always a leader, when a child at play or young miss at school; as a teacher she was queen of her domain. Her language was as flowers; her presence, magnetic and sympathetic. She entertained us with picturesque humor.

Francis Murphy, a contemporary said of her: "Frances Willard is the fairest rose in the garden."

She was democratic. She deplored snobbishness. She retired from the university at the close of the school year. When we expressed our regret that she had left us she replied, "I am only in a larger school of girls." There could be no bounds set for her that had such inimitable mental power, such unwavering purpose. Her amiability, her originality, her talent for organization, and her silver-tongued oratory rendered her a leader and won for her sincere devotion.

Frances Willard Day offered the principalship of a fashionable school for women and the presidency of the Chicago W. C. T. U., she chose the thorny path of the reformer and, renouncing beauty that she loved, she assumed the leadership of the women of America in the temperance crusade by accepting the presidency of the Chicago W. C. T. U. in March, 1874.

The torch of duty always flamed aloft before her, luring her on to accomplish great things for moral uplift. October, 1874 she became corresponding secretary of the Illinois W. C. T. U. and president of the National Union in 1879.

From 1874 she traveled ceaselessly, recrossing the Atlantic many times, pausing only for brief intervals of rest at the home of her co-worker, Lady Somerset, of England, or at her own "Rest Cottage" in Evanston. After repeated efforts, her dream at last came true when she organized the World's W. C. T. U. in 1883. She was made its President. Miss Anna Gordon, now president of the World's W. C. T. U. was for twenty-two years her constant companion and private secretary.

Miss Willard was an idealist; a composite of many generations of Puritan ancestry; the full fruitage of an ancient bloom. As she sat in the Plymouth Church at Brooklyn, Henry Ward Beecher turned to her and said: "Queen in all but name, and she cannot vote!" Like Washington: "No people can claim; no country can appropriate her."

Late in the year 1897, she visited her birthplace in Churchville, New York ; next, Oberlin. Afterwards she and her constant companion, Miss Gordon, came to Janesville. Forest Home was revisited. Miss Willard said, of the many rivers she had seen none seemed to her so grand as Rock River with the childhood associations that clustered around it. "Bright as the brightest sunshine, the light of memory streams around the old-fashioned homestead where I dreamed my dream of dreams."

"This home, more than any other," said Miss Gordon, "had been inwrought into the life of Miss Willard. The seed sown in her young mind had been the cause of her outgoing."

January, 1898, Miss Willard gave her last public address in the Congregational Church of Janesville. Here she could again look into the kindly faces of her friends and school-mates, and bid them good-bye.

September 28, 1911, the Willard schoolhouse was dedicated to her with imposing exercises. This is the property of the Rock County W. C. T. U. and is to be preserved as a shrine for her friends. The surrey which was a gift to Miss Willard from an Ohio friend is to be kept in the Madison Historical Rooms.

Early in 1898, after Miss Willard had revisited "Rest Cottage" and Chicago, she and her party went to New York City as guests of the Hotel Empire previous to sailing for England. After two weeks in the city, she was seized with illness and passed away February 17, 1898. Her remains lie in Rose Hill Cemetery, Chicago.


ID: I603577388

Name: Frances Elizabeth Caroline WILLARD

Given Name: Frances Elizabeth Caroline

Surname: Willard

Sex: F

Birth: 28 Sep 1839 in Churchville, Monroe, NY

Death: 17 Feb 1898 in New York, NY

Event: Education Northwestern Female College

Occupation: President Evanston College for Ladies

Occupation: Dean of Women Northwestern U.

Event: Election President National Council of Women

Event: Election President WCTU


Frances Willard was one of the best known women of her times. Her statue

stands in the rotunda of the US Capitol. She was instrumental in the

formation of the Prohibition Party. ( Her cousin by marriage, Harvy Hardy

would run unsuccessfully several times for governor of Nebraska on the

Prohibition Party Ticket. ) She was elected president of the National

Council of Women primarily because of her support of the vote for women.

She helped organize the Chicago Woman's Christian Temperance Union in

1874. In 1879 she was elected president of the National Woman's

Christian Temperance Union and in 1891 she became president of the

World's Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Frances also supported women's rights, suffrage, equal pay for equal

work, and an the 8 hour day. She was a teacher, administrator, an

excellent speaker, a successful lobbyist and an expert in public

relations. In 1895 Susan B. Anthony introduced Miss Willard to a United

States Senate Committee as a "general with an army of 250,000."

Frances is remembered in the Methodist Church for her strong stance in

favor of women's participation in the church. She was elected by the

Rock River Conference as a lay delegate to General Conference in 1888 but

was denied her seat by the General Conference.(Bordin, Ruth FRANCES

WILLARD, A BIOGRAPHY University of North Carolina Press 1986)

Father: Josiah WILLARD

Mother: Mary Thompson HILL b: 3 Jan 1805 in Danville, Caledonia, VT

Willard grew up in a family where her father desired to be a minister, who he took classes at Oberlin College to further his dream. Her mother also took classes with him. However, due to the advice of a doctor, her father stopped going to school and instead moved his family out to Janesville, Wisconsin Territory.

As a child, Willard was a tomboy, having short hair, she insisted on being called "Frank." As a child, there was no school for Frances to attend, and as her father saw to legislative duties, her mother began to school her.

Her education was continued inconsistently. She attended an all girls school for one semester in Janesville.

As Willard grew older, she was resentful that her brother was allowed to vote, and she was not able.

In 1857 she started to attend the Milwaukee Female College. However, after one term her father transferred her to the North Western Female College in Evanston, Ill. She graduated in 1859 as a "Laureate of Science"

After graduation she taught at a series of schools. In 1866, she became a preceptress at the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, NY.

In 1861, she became engaged to Charles Henry Fowler. After several months, the engagement ended.

In 1868 Frances traveled for two years with Kate Jackson, a friend from the Genesse Wesleyan Seminary. They traveled, at the expense of Kate's father, to Europe, Russia, Egypt, the Holy Land, Constantinople, and Greece. While traveling Willard wrote articles for the newspapers at home.

In 1870, she returned from her travels and in 71 was named president of the Evanston College for Ladies. The new college was closely linked to Northwestern University.

In 1872, her ex-finance became the president of Northwestern and began to give Francis problems. He felt Northwestern had control over Evanston College. In the summer of 1873, Northwestern took over the college officially due to its financial problems.

After the closure of Evanston College Willard became a dean of women and professor of English and art at Northwestern.

In 1873 she was asked to participate in the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Women in New York City.

In 1874 she resigned her position at Northwestern due to the continued conflict with her ex.

Frances was soon asked to lead temperance movements and take a leading role at conventions. She used her position in the temperance movement and cause to also promote women's sufferage, to the disapproval of some.

In Sept of 1877 she returned to Evanston. She also resigned as national corresponding secretary of Women's Christian Temperance Union. In 1878 she was chosen for president of the Illinois W.C.T.U. She also organized the "Home Protection" petition. The petition gathered over a hundred thousand female signatures to allow women of the state of Illinois be give the vote on liquor questions. The petition died in committee, but the next election showed new people being elected.

In 1879 she took over as national president of W.C.T.U. Under her the union became about more then just temperance.

In 1883, she sent temperance missionaries to the Far East. They set up Temperance Unions and distributed the "Polyglot Petition." It asked their leaders to do something about alcohol and narcotic drugs.

The World W.C.T.U. evolved from this. The first world's convention was held in Boston, 1891. Willard was elected president.

In 1892, she moved to England where she thought and wrote. While in England, she believed that poverty was the cause of intemperance. She also believed that prohibition was not the answer, education was.

She died in 1898 due to "grippe" and anemia.

Additional Resources on Francis Willard

Frances E. Willard

Willard, Frances by Compton's Encyclopedia

Frances W. Willard by Ohio State History

WER: Frances E. Willard

Frances Willard: books by and about

Willard, Frances Elizabeth. Writing Out My Heart. Urbana, 1995.


Frances Elizabeth Willard

Throughout the 19th century, women played a prominent role in the promotion of "temperance," or restraint in the use of alcohol. Women had experienced first-hand how the time and money their husbands spent in bars harmed the family–especially when a drunken evening ended in a beating for the wife or the children, as it often did.

Under Frances E. Willard’s leadership, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union became the era’s leading temperance organization–many times larger than the suffrage organizations led by Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

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Frances Willard

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Birth: Sep. 28, 1839

Death: Feb. 17, 1898

New York Mills

Oneida County

New York

Social Reformer. Served as President of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

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Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum


Cook County

Illinois, USA

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Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard's Timeline

September 28, 1839
Churchville, Monroe, New York, United States
February 17, 1898
Age 58
New York, New York, United States
Chicago, Cook, Illiinois, United States