Frances Willard

Frances Willard
Name: Frances Willard
Birth Date: September 28, 1839
Birth Place: Churchville New York, USA
Death Date: February 17, 1898
Death Location: New York New York, USA
Burial Place: Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois


World renowned social reformer Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (1839-1898) lived in Evanston for the entirety of her adult life. Through her efforts, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union became the largest women’s organization in the U.S. before 1900, mobilizing countless women to take on a wider role in the world through temperance activism. Her “Do Everything” reform agenda included advocating for women’s suffrage, the 8-hour work day and age-of-consent laws. Her presence in Evanston made the community a player on the national reform stage, and gave local women a glimpse of a larger world.


Frances Willard was a social reformer and organizer, author and speaker, woman’s rights advocate, the second president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the founder of the World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. She was a leader among women of her time and generation, and influential in her work by changing the relationship between women, the public sphere and politics around the world. To her contemporaries, Frances Willard was the most famous woman in the United States. Though Willard is remembered for a variety of feats in her life, perhaps she is best known for her temperance work—work she accomplished, by and large, from her home in Evanston at 1730 Chicago Avenue between the years of 1874 and 1892.

Willard first became an officer of the WCTU in 1874 when she was elected corresponding secretary. By 1879, she took over as the second President of the WCTU. As President of the WCTU, Willard changed the direction of the organization from one solely focused on temperance, to one that was more encompassing of all issues of importance to women. Under her direction, the WCTU became the largest women’s organization in the United States. Her “Do Everything” policy created over forty WCTU departments to carry on the organization’s educational objectives and to promote its many causes such as public health, sanitation and other locally pressing problems and social ills. Willard used temperance as a platform through which to politicize and organize woman on a variety of fronts; the prohibition of alcohol, she thought, would improve the morals of society and thus lead to further reforms.

Willard thought of the WCTU as a school for women, which would give them a chance to achieve identities beyond those of wives and mothers while also using these identities to their advantage and as inspiration. For example, using the phrase “Home Protection,” Willard convinced WCTU women that having the vote would give them power to make or keep their towns dry. She gave new life to the suffrage movement by urging the introduction of woman’s suffrage on the local level before working to achieve a national constitutional amendment.

Father: Josiah Flint Willard
Mother: Mary Thompson Hill Willard
Education: North Western Female College: Scientific Education, 1958-59. Milwaukee Female College.
Years in Evanston: 1858-1898

Sources: Archives and Collections: "Willard, Frances." Biographical Files. Evanston History Center, Evanston, Illinois "Temperance." Subject Files. Evanston History Center, Evanston, Illinois "WCTU." Subject Files. Evanston History Center, Evanston, Illinois Northwestern University Archives. Willard Memorial Library and Archives. Personal Collection of Mary B. McWilliams (books, memorabilia, and post cards). Newspapers and Magazines: The Evanston Index The Evanston News-Index The Evanston Review Other Primary Sources: Willard, Frances. Glimpses of Fifty Years: An Autobiography of an American Woman. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1892. Secondary Sources: Blocker, Jack S., Jr. "Give to the Winds Thy Fears:" Women's Temperance Crusade, 1873-1874. Westport, CT & London: Greenwood Press, 1985. Buchbinder-Green, Barbara J. Evanston: A Pictorial History. St. Louis: G. Bradley Publishing, Inc., 1989 Casson, Herbert N. Munsey's Magazine, Vol. XXXIII, no. 5, "The Story of Temperance," August 1905. Evanston Chamber of Commerce, ed. "Evanston, IL." Beverly Hills: Windsor Publications, 1965. Gifford, Carolyn DeSwarte, ed. Writing Out My Heart: Selections from the Journal of Frances E. Willard, 1855-1896. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Gilman, Agness and Gertrude, Who's Who in IL: Women Makers of History, 1927 Gordon, Anna Adams. The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard, Memorial ed., Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1898. Gordon, Elizabeth Putnam. Women Torch-Bearers. Evanston: National Woman's Christian Temperance Union Publishing House, 19xx. Hays, Agnes Dubbs. Heritage of Dedication. Evanston: Signal Press, 1973. Hurd, Harvey B., and Robert D. Sheppard, History of Evanston, Vol. II. Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1906. Kiwanis Club of Evanston, ed. "Evanston." Evanston: Kiwanis Club of Evanston, 1924. Osborne, Lori J. "Woman's Christian Temperance Union Administration Building." National Register Nomination. 2004. Pegram, Thomas R. Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998. Perkins, Margery Blair. Evanstoniana: A Pictorial History of Evanston and its Architecture. Evanston, Evanston Historical Society and Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1984 Pittman, David J. and Charles R. Snyder, eds. Society, Culture, and Drinking Patterns, NY & London: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1962. Rotskoff, Lori. Love on the Rocks: Men, Women, and Alcohol in Post-WWII America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Scott, Franklin D., ed. A Pictorial History of Northwestern University, 1851-1951. Evanston: NU Press, 1951; Williamson, Harld F and Payson S. wild. Northwestern University: A History, 1850-1975. Evanston: NU, 1976. Schultz, Rima Lunin, and Adele Hast, eds. Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Tyler, Helen E. Where Prayer and Purpose Meet. Evanston: The Signal Press, 1949. Ward, Sarah F. The White Ribbon Story: 125 Years of Service to Humanity. Evanston: The Signal Press, 1999. Willard, Frances E. A Great Mother: Sketches of Madam Willard, by her daughter Frances E. Willard and her Kinswoman Minerva Brace Norton. Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publishing Association, 1894. Willard, Frances E. "The Origin of the World's W.C.T.U." The Review of Reviews, October 1897. Willard, Frances E. Woman and Temperance: or The Work and Workers of The Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Hartford: Park Publishing Co., 1883. Williamson, Harold F. and Payson S. Wild. Northwestern University: A History, 1850-1975. Evanston: Northwestern University, 1976. Wintle, W.J., and Florence Witts. Florence Nightingale and Frances E. Willard: The Story of Their Lives. London: The Sunday School Union, no date. Wise Smith, Ida B. "What the Drys Will Do Next." Liberty Magazine. vol. 10, no. 47. (November 25, 1933).