Skip to main content

Willard, Frances Elizabeth Caroline (1839-1898)

Frances Elizabeth Willard

By Catherine A. Paul

Frances Willard
Frances Willard
Photo: Public Domain

Frances Elizabeth Willard was born September 28, 1839 in Churchville, New York and died February 17, 1898 in New York, New York (Kent, 1924). She was an American temperance leader, reformer, lecturer, writer and educator. Willard was pivotal in the formation of the Prohibition Party and was known for her early support of women’s right to vote. She traveled around the United States and Europe, speaking extensively in support of temperance and suffrage (Harvard University Library, 2017). For her, these causes were intertwined; exorbitant alcohol consumption during the 19th century fueled the prevalence of domestic violence (WCTU, n.d.).

Willard graduated from Northwestern Female College in Evanston, IL in 1859, and, upon graduating, became an instructor. In 1871, she became president of the school and later served as its dean when it merged with Northwestern University. Willard left Northwestern in 1874 to help organize the Chicago chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and she became its national president in 1879. Under her leadership, the WCTU became the largest non-secular organization of women in the 19th century (WCTU, n.d.).

Statue of Frances Willard given to the National Statuary Hall Collection by Illinois in 1905
Statue of Frances Willard given to the National Statuary Hall Collection by Illinois in 1905
Photo: Courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

The WCTU incorporated temperance education into school curricula and advocated for prison reform, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and an end to prostitution (Harvard University Library, 2017). Willard called her wide variety of reforms her “Do Everything” policy. Furthermore, she recognized the importance of not only advocating for women’s empowerment, but also for providing women with skills they may need to flourish in society. Thus, she often called the WCTU, “WCTUniversity” (WCTU, n.d.). Willard’s success in making public work by women palatable to men was largely due to her ability to weave together the importance of familial and domestic responsibilities with action in the public sphere (Bordin, 1986).

In 1883, Willard began her international work alongside Mary C. Leavitt, circulating the “Polygot Petition” against international drug trade. In 1888, she joined May Wright Sewall at the International Council of Women meeting in Washington, DC, where she laid the groundwork for a permanent National Council of Women and served as its first president from 1888-1890. Moreover, she helped to organize the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1889 and joined the Association for the Advancement of Women. Then, in 1891, Willard was elected president of the World’s WCTU (Harvard University Library, 2017). 

After her death in 1898, a statue in Frances Willard’s likeness was placed in the United States Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall (Bordin, 1986).

This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.

For Further Reading:

Woman in the Pulpit, by Frances Willard

Frances Willard: Her Life and Work, by Ray Strachey

A Woman of the Century: Fourteen Hundred-Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life, by Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore

A Classic Town: The Story of Evanston By “An Old Timer,” by Frances E. Willard

The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard: A Memorial Volume, by Anna A. Gordon

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

Woman and Temperance: Or, The Work and Workers of The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, by Frances E. Willard

A Wheel within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle with Some Reflections by the Way, by Frances E. Willard

National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union

“Address of Frances E. Willard, President of the Woman’s National Council of the United States, at Its First Triennial Meeting, Albaugh’s Opera House, Washington, DC, February 22-25, 1891,” courtesy of The Ohio State University

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard” video excerpt from Prohibition: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

“Frances E. Willard, Given by Illinois to the National Statuary Hall Collection,” courtesy of Architect of the Capitol


Bordin, R. (1986). Frances Willard: A biography. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Harvard University Library. (2017). Frances Willard (1839-1898). Women Working, 1800-1930. Retrieved from

Kent, A. C. (1924). Frances E. Willard. Wisconsin Electronic Reader. Retrieved from

WCTU. (n.d.). Frances E. Willard (1839-1898). National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Retrieved from

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C. A. (2017). Frances Elizabeth Willard. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from


Resources related to this topic may be found in the Social Welfare History Image Portal.

0 Replies to “Willard, Frances Elizabeth Caroline (1839-1898)”

Comments for this site have been disabled. Please use our contact form for any research questions.