A Toast to Frances Willard

Every fall I  chaperone around 125 middle school students on an educational tour of  Washington D.C.  It seems inevitable that the young docent taking us on a guided tour of the U.S. Capital which includes the national statuary hall, will stop in front of the statue of Frances Willard representing Illinois.  Here the docent asks anyone in the group to raise their hand if they have heard of Frances Willard, and every year I am the only one raising a hand.

I guess growing up in Evanston Illinois, like I did,  you at least are exposed to the name:  Frances Willard Home on Chicago Ave., Willard Hall on Northwestern’s campus.  You know that she led the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and that they were anti-alcohol.   You think it sounds like a pretty uptight group of righteous bores. This I’m afraid  is why most Illinois students don’t know her name.

Should she be there representing Illinois if nobody knows her?

I learned after watching Ken Burn’s Prohibition that the WCTU movement truly believed that alcohol was evil and led to women being beaten and men losing their jobs.   I believe you should always judge historical figures by empathizing with the position they were in their time in history.  Frances watched her brother succumb to alcoholism and saw how it destroyed his life.

Frances was an awesome activist for women’s rights. In fact, she helped the movement that ultimately led to ratifying the 19th amendment giving American women the right to vote.   So with Illinois’s primary a week away, spread the word that we have Frances Willard to thank.




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