Frances Willard

Frances Willard (1839-1898) was born on September 28, 1839, in Churchville, New York. She lived there with her parents until 1841 when the family moved to Oberlin, Ohio. In 1846 the family moved to southeastern Wisconsin to a farm near Janesville where Willard spent most of her childhood. In 1858, Willard came to Evanston to attend the North Western Female College. She graduated in 1859 and began a teaching career that started in one-room schools. As her reputation grew she held more prestigious positions in secondary schools in Pennsylvania and New York.

In 1871 Willard became president of the newly formed Evanston College for Ladies. When this college merged with Northwestern University, Willard became the first Dean of Women at Northwestern. For various reasons, Willard resigned this position in 1874 and that summer she began to pursue a new career in the fledgling woman’s temperance movement.

Frances Willard, ca. 1890. Courtesy Library of Congress.

In November 1874 Willard attended the founding convention of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and was elected the first corresponding secretary. She was given the task of communicating with members and traveling to small towns and cities in the United States, forming local Unions and building support for the WCTU. Willard worked hard during these early years to expand the WCTU’s reform efforts to include such issues as woman suffrage, woman’s rights, education reforms, and labor reforms. Her development of the “Home Protection” argument in support of woman suffrage provided a critical strategy for the suffrage movement and, once she persuaded the membership of the WCTU to join her, added thousands of women to the suffrage cause.

After Willard was elected President of the WCTU in 1879, the organization gave its support to this broader view of the WCTU’s reform work. Under Willard’s leadership the WCTU grew to be the largest organization of women in the world by 1890. She saw the WCTU both as a means for accomplishing societal reform and for training women to accomplish these and many other reforms, expanding their public role in the world. The WCTU was critical in building the next generation of women leaders. In late 1897 Willard’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. She died in the Empire Hotel in New York on February 17, 1898, at the age of fifty-eight.

For more on Frances Willard, visit


Frances E. Willard, Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman.

Ruth Bordin, Frances Willard: A Biography.

Ruth Bordin, Women and Temperance: The Quest for Power and Liberty: 1873-1900.

Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford, Writing Out My Heart: Selections from the Journal of Frances E. Willard.

Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford and Amy Slagle, eds., Let Something Good Be Said: Speeches and Writings of Frances E. Willard.