Frances Willard, a long-time resident of Evanston, Illinois, was one of the most prominent social reformers of the 19th century and arguably one of the generating influences in America’s long history of social justice and activism.
Although best known as the president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), she was a leading activist in many important 19th century reform movements including woman suffrage, women’s economic and religious rights, prison reforms, education reforms, and labor reforms, such as child labor laws and the eight hour workday. Many things that we commonly take for granted, like age of consent laws, women’s marriage, property and citizenship rights, and alcohol and drug education among many others, had their origins in these movements.
She used the WCTU as an organizing force, advocating for broad social as well as political change, calling this wide program of reform her “Do Everything” policy, reflecting her advocacy not just of temperance but of women’s rights, social justice, and world peace. Willard also recognized the need not to simply advocate for women’s empowerment, but to provide women with the skills they would need in this new society. Under her leadership, the WCTU grew to be the largest organization of women in 19th century America.
In her time all school children in the U.S. knew who she was. She was the first woman to be honored with her likeness in the US Congress Statuary Hall and was the only woman until last year when Rosa Parks’ statue was added.For a list of sources about Frances E. Willard, and the larger issues of her time, click here.