Frances Willard, born on September 28, 1839, in Churchville, New York, was a prominent American educator, reformer, and suffragist. Her tireless advocacy for social and moral issues, particularly the temperance movement and women’s rights, left an enduring impact on American society. Willard played a pivotal role in the temperance movement, becoming the national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1879. Under her leadership, the WCTU expanded its focus to encompass a wide range of social issues, including women’s suffrage, labor rights, and social justice.
A trailblazer in the fight for women’s rights, Frances Willard became the first woman to be dean of a college in the United States when she assumed the role at Northwestern University in 1871. Her dedication to education and her advocacy for women’s access to higher learning paved the way for future generations of female scholars. Willard’s commitment to social reform extended beyond her role in the temperance and suffrage movements; she was a vocal supporter of a broad spectrum of progressive causes, including labor rights, prison reform, and the peace movement.
Frances Willard’s legacy is perhaps best encapsulated in her leadership of the suffrage movement. She co-founded the National Council of Women and the International Council of Women, working tirelessly to secure voting rights for women. Although she did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, her contributions laid a crucial foundation for the eventual success of the suffrage movement and the broader women’s rights movement in the United States.
Let’s take a look at these 10 fun facts about Frances Willard to know more about her.
- Early Teaching Career: Frances Willard began her career as a teacher, and at the age of 18, she became the principal of a high school in Genesee, New York. This early experience laid the groundwork for her lifelong commitment to education.
- Northwestern University Leadership: Willard made history when she became the first woman to be appointed as the dean of a college in the United States. She held this position at Northwestern University, breaking new ground for women in academia.
- World Traveler: Frances Willard was a well-traveled individual, journeying across the globe to places such as Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Her experiences broadened her perspective and influenced her approach to social reform.
- Leader of the WCTU: Willard became the national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1879. Under her leadership, the WCTU grew into one of the largest and most influential women’s organizations of the 19th century, advocating for temperance and a range of social issues.
- Innovative Fundraising: Willard was an innovative fundraiser. To support the WCTU, she introduced the concept of the “penny-a-week” donation campaign, encouraging individuals to contribute a small amount regularly. This grassroots fundraising approach was highly successful.
- Writing Prowess: A prolific writer, Frances Willard authored several books and articles on a variety of topics, including temperance, education, and women’s rights. Her writing contributed significantly to the intellectual discourse of her time.
- Artistic Pursuits: Willard had a keen interest in the arts, particularly painting and drawing. She often used her artistic talents to illustrate her speeches and writings, adding a creative dimension to her advocacy work.
- Suffrage Leader: In addition to her work in the temperance movement, Frances Willard was a prominent leader in the suffrage movement. She played a crucial role in the establishment of the National Council of Women and the International Council of Women, advocating for women’s right to vote.
- International Influence: Willard’s influence extended beyond the United States. She participated in international women’s conferences and played a key role in the formation of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
- Illinois State Song Connection: Frances Willard’s legacy is honored in the state of Illinois, where she spent much of her life. The Illinois state song, “Illinois,” includes a reference to Willard, recognizing her contributions to the state and the nation.
Frances Willard, a trailblazing force in the realms of education, temperance, and women’s rights, left an indelible mark on American history. As the first female dean of a U.S. college and the dynamic leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Willard’s impact reverberated through academia, social reform, and suffrage advocacy. Her innovative fundraising methods, prolific writing, and international influence showcased a multifaceted leader dedicated to progress. Though she did not witness the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Frances Willard’s groundwork and tireless efforts were instrumental in paving the way for women’s suffrage. Her legacy endures as a testament to the transformative power of education, the fight for social justice, and the pioneering spirit of those who dare to challenge societal norms for the greater good.