Women Working Harvard Libraries Women Working Home

Frances Willard (1839–1898)

Portrait of Frances Elizabeth Willard. Albumen print, c1885-1898. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Indstitute.

An American temperance leader and reformer, lecturer, writer, and educator, Frances Willard was instrumental in the formation of the Prohibition Party and was widely known for her early support of women's right to vote. Willard traveled extensively across the United States and Europe speaking in support of both movements.

Born in Churchville, New York, Frances Willard graduated in 1859 from Northwestern Female College in Evanston, Illinois, where she later became an instructor. She was appointed as the school's president in 1871 and then served as its dean when the school merged with Northwestern University. For a time Willard also worked as a journalist and was an editor of the Chicago Daily Post. Willard left the university to help organize the Chicago chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874 and became president of the national organization in 1879. The main objective of the WCTU was to persuade all states to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. Under Willard's leadership, the organization brought temperance education to schools and supported the abolition of prostitution, prison reform, and women's suffrage, as well as prohibition.

Her international work began in 1883 with the mission of Mary C. Leavitt and others to circulate the "Polyglot Petition" against the international drug trade. In 1888 she joined May Wright Sewall at the International Council of Women meeting in Washington, DC and laid the groundwork for a permanent National Council of Women, for which she served as its first president from 1888 to 1890. She also helped organize the General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1889 and was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Women. A convention of delegates from 21 nations met in Boston in 1891 to form the World's WCTU, of which Willard was elected president. She died in 1898 in New York.

Browse Materials Digitized for Women Working

Other Resources