Posts Tagged ‘Frances Willard’

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love, kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).

“…to stand by the great cause of poor, oppressed humanity. …This has been my ‘call’ from the beginning, by frances willardnature and by nurture; let me be true to its inspiring and cheery mandate even ‘unto this last.’” (From France Willard’s autobiography, “Glimpses of Fifty Years”, p. 694.)

“’Except the Lord build the city, they labor in vain that build,’ and she has always sought to commit her work and her ways to the keeping of the Divine Master in a simple child-like faith that He would lead her in the way she should go and would make all her paths straight before her” (“Introduction, pg. ix”)

Though her name has been forgotten today Frances Willard was the most famous woman in America, and was even well-known in Europe, during the late 19th century. Frances Willard died in New York in 1898, and her body was transported by rail to Chicago, pausing for services along the way like a presidential funeral train. In Chicago, 30,000 persons filed by her casket in one day. Ruth Bordin wrote, “The nation mourned her with a grief, admiration, and respect it would have bestowed on a great national hero or martyred president. No woman before or since was so clearly on the day of her death this country’s most honored woman.” Flags flew at half-mast in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D. C.

I recommend two books on the life of this fascinating woman:

1. Anna Gordon’s The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard. I am privileged to have an original 1898 Memorial edition (Women’s Temperance Publishing Association, Chicago, IL, 1898). There are still original books available as well as reprints in online bookstores.

  1. Frances Willard’s autobiography, Glimpses of Fifty Years: The Autobiography of an American Woman. Again, there are beautiful reprints available.

In a previous post, January 23, 2013, I listed the many accomplishments of Frances Willard including her temperance work, her aid to poor and destitute women, her aid to the refugees from the Armenian Christians who were being persecuted in Turkey, and the advances she made in education. In her day women struggled to get into college; women today can be grateful for equal opportunities in education thanks to women like Frances Willard.

In this post I would like to present just a sampling of the wisdom of this great woman.

To be busy doing something that is worthy to be done is the happiest thing in all this world for girl or boy, for old or young. (pg. 70)

Frances’s learned a valuable lesion from her blind friend. This young girl maintained a cheerful attitude because … “happiness is from within; that the real light shines in the heart, not in the eyes, and that everybody who will be glad may be” (pg. 91).

On Christian fellowship – I honestly believe that I regard all the churches, the branches rather of the one Church, with feelings of equal kindness and fellowship. … The churches are all fighting nobly and zealously to make the world better and happier. Oh, I earnestly pray that as I grow older, the kindly, all-loving, catholic spirit may more deeply ground itself in my heart! (Pg. 127)

friction:peaceAnd – How much of life’s present friction will be avoided when the average mind discovers that the central aim of any life is best conserved by choosing for one’s motto “In non-essentials, liberty”! (Pg. 201)


On perseverance – But I have come to believe that it is well for us, well for our characters, those beautiful fabrics we are weaving every day, to do those things that do not make us happy, but only make us strong. (Pg. 147)

As a young woman, Frances sought for satisfaction in life. She believed that the answer is in Christ.  Christ has in His nature the elements that will make all this true when we behold Him face to face. We do not know that we are seeking here when we strive so hard and fret so much. … we shall erelong awake to life and be restless and hungry and thirsty no more! (Pg. 184)

It broke Frances’s heart to leave behind her girls at Evanston College where she had labored for years, giving the best of her life. She was forced out by the new president who refused to examine his lax rules for the students as she advised. She could no longer stay there in good conscience lying to the parents that their daughters were not at risk spiritually. Though she was more “in the right” and agonized over the decision to leave her young women behind she received peace when she rested in God. She heard His voice saying, good to forgive, best to forget. (Pg. 239)

In the turning point in her life, when Frances stepped away from a secure job for an unknown future she turned to her Bible for comfort. This verse gave her assurance, Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. (Psalm 37:3) (Pg. 337)

More on forgiveness: Frances met Pandita Ramabai. (See my posts on this amazing woman from India, Dec. 22, 2011 and Sept. 6, 2012). Frances was very impressed with the gentleness of Ramabai. This seems to be her motto. “Has any wronged thee: Be bravely avenged; slight it, and the work’s begun; forgive it, and ‘tis finished.” (Pg. 558)

In her religious journey Frances sought to lead others to Christ. In her day Unitarianism was on the rise. She struggled with the idea of a Trinity as many do, but finally she decided to adjust myself to the idea of “Three in one” and “One in three.” … I translate the concept of God into the nomenclature and personality of the New Testament. What Paul says of Christ, is what I say; the love John felt, it is my dearest with to cherish. (Pg. 624)

On Companionship – “Tell me with whom thou goest and I’ll tell thee what thou doest.” No precept was ever more frequently repeated and enforced by my parents than this. (Pg. 637)

On knowing ourselves – I wonder if we really know ourselves in respect of discount as well as we do in respect of advantage? It seems equally important that we should, else our undertakings will be out of all proportion to our powers, and failure a foregone conclusion. I have always believed that in a nobler state of society we should help each other by frank and kindly criticism, couple with equally frank praise, and have held, in the face of steady contradiction from my friends, that Christian people ought thus to help each other here and now. (Pg. 646)

Finally, I cannot help but include this piece of “prophecy”. Frances lamented the fact that the newly invented “phonograph” would ruin the beauty and intimacy of good conversation.

To my thought, conversation is the filling and soul of social life, the culmination of the spirit’s possible power, the giving of a life-time in an hour, though its form and method certainly have changed in this electric age when the phonograph has come into being. I half suspect that there will be a strike in the physical manufactory one of these day; the muscles of the face will refuse to do their duty, the tongue will make believe paralytic, and the lips will join the rebellion. (Pg. 686)

Frances said this before radio or television or computers or I-phones or texting or tweeting!! How far we have traveled! Do today’s teens even know how to have a conversation that is more than 10 seconds long?

I pray that at the end of my life I will enjoy the old hymn so much loved by Frances Willard and be able to sing its words truly:

May the Lord He will be glad of me,
May the Lord He will be glad of me,
May the Lord He will be glad of me,
        In the heaven He’ll rejoice









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He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love, kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).

Ladies, are you grateful for your freedoms today? Do you remember that our great-grandmothers were not able to do many of the things that we take for granted.

In the 1800’s, when Frances Willard lived, women could not vote. It was very difficult for women to go to college. There were few laws against the abuse of women. Women were expected to stay home and not go out into the “men’s” world of work.

Today many of those wrongs have been righted and we owe a lot to Frances Willard for her part in working towards justice for women.

Her name has largely been forgotten today, but at one time she was the most famous woman in America. Faith Martin, in her biographical article on Frances Willard, says, “In the Capitol in Washington D.C., each state is represented by awillard statue statue of its most honored citizen. Of all the fifty states only Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, is represented by a woman. Her name is Frances Willard. “Who is she?” you ask.

At the time of her death in 1898, Frances Willard was the most famous woman in America. Flags flew at half-mast in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D. C. She died in New York, and her body was transported by rail to Chicago, pausing for services along the way like a presidential funeral train. In Chicago, 30,000 persons filed by her casket in one day. Ruth Bordin writes, ‘The nation mourned her with a grief, admiration, and respect it would have bestowed on a great national hero or martyred president. No woman before or since was so clearly on the day of her death this country’s most honored woman.'”

Why has the “most famous woman in America” been forgotten in our day?

Willard, Frances E.Probably the most important reason is that Frances Willard was best known for being the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). That is old history for most. We do not understand what it was like to live during a time when alcoholism was destroying so many homes with seemingly no help from church or state. Frances worked tirelessly to bring laws into being that would limit or control the sale of hard liquor. She was credited with being responsible for starting the organization that would eventually bring in Prohibition, twenty years after her death.

Most people now believe that Prohibition was a mistake and best be forgotten. And so, Frances has been forgotten with it.

But working against the evils of alcohol was not all that Frances Willard was about. Let’s look at some other reasons why we should remember her and hold her in honor.

Frances was concerned with a broad range of women’s rights. In her day the term “feminist” was not used as we use it today. The movement she was part of was referred to as the “woman question” or sometimes “women’s suffrage”. Frances herself was very feminine and would have been surprised at the derogatory tone that is used today when speaking of the “feminists”.

Education was an area that Frances took a lead in and actually came up with some innovations that are still with us today. Frances became the founding president of Northwestern Ladies College. She came up with a plan for women to either remain entirely within the Ladies College or to take classes at Northwestern University concurrently. This would allow women to get a degree in a typically male field. Her program was successful and later adopted by Radcliff and Barnard Colleges.

Alcohol abuse was not only a general concern for Frances, but also a personal one. Her brother fought with the problem and her two nephews. One nephew overcame the problem; the other did not. Frances knew how capricious addiction could be. It is nearly impossible to tell who will not be bothered by alcohol and who will be overcome by it.

It is not that Frances thought that alcohol was evil. She herself had enjoyed a glass of wine occasionally when she traveled. But when she became the president of the Temperance Union, she abstained completely.

Frances was concerned for the total well being of women and society. Not all of her work was about just Prohibition.

Her many other achievements while leading the WCTU include:

1.  Campaigning for changes in the prostitution laws. This is hard for us to imagine today, but the age of consent in twenty states back then was as low as ten years old, and in one state it was seven. What in the world is any state in a supposed Christian country doing with a law that says a seven year old can consent to sexual relations? I think it is obvious that there were men who wanted to get away with their perversions and not be held accountable.
Frances believed that the rules for sexual purity should be equal for men and women. It was not fair for women to be punished or castigated while men got off completely free. If the prostitute was arrested, the man should be too.

2.  Frances also brought to the attention of the world the trade in narcotics. She worked hard to change public opinion on drug trafficking. The WCTU circulated a petition, asking governments to stop the sale of drugs, especially opium. They collected 8 million signatures worldwide, including names in 50 different languages.

3.  Sports for women. Frances encouraged good health for women including willard_on_bikeexercise. She believed that the bicycle would be a big help and purchased one for herself. Leading by example, she took a bicycle tour of Europe for one of her vacations.

4.  Practical ways to help men stay sober.  It was not enough to try and stop the sale of liquor. Frances pushed for reforms that would aid men in having a choice of something else to drink. For example, she encouraged cities to put drinking fountains in their town squares so that farmers did not automatically have to go to the saloon to get something to drink when they came to town.

5.  Prison work. Frances worked to have men and women separately housed. She also pushed for the idea that there always be a female officer in jails where women were. The job of police matron was established everywhere by 1894.

6.  While heading WCTU, Frances wrote addresses every year. One year she was able to praise a leading labor group of that time, the Knights of Labor, for their focus on equal pay with disregard for discrimination due to “sex, race, nor creed”.

7.  Frances had many other interesting opportunities. Once she was able to join with General Booth of the Salvation Army to help in the relief work for the Armenian Christians who were being persecuted in Turkey. Thousands of Armenians were slaughtered and hundreds of refugees fled to Europe and the United States. Frances was able to use WCTU families to sponsor hundreds of these refugees.

8.  In a matter that is very controversial today, towards the end of her life Frances began to speak out on religious matters. Reasoning that women in the New Testament were allowed to prophesy and that “he that prophecies edifies the church” (I Corinthians 14:4), she believed that women should be allowed to speak in church.
That whole discussion of women preaching in church is outside of the scope of this paper, but it is a good question to ask: If women can be bankers, farmers, lawyers, teachers, and accountants, then why can’t they work in church? This would be consistent in a society where men and women are equal in God’s sight as His children.

We should be thankful that brave women like Frances Willard fought the good fight. I for one am grateful that I live in the twenty-first century and not the nineteenth.

Frances Willard should be held in high esteem. We listed all of the reasons that Frances should be honored besides just her work with WCTU. It is probable that she is overlooked in history books just because of the issue of prohibition, but I think there is more to it.

The “feminists” shun Frances Willard because she was a Christian. Note to non-Christian, leftist, liberal feminists – Would you please stop calling yourself feminists? You don’t know what true feminism is.

The patriarchy-style Christians shun her because she fought for women’s rights. Note to my far right Christian sisters – Would you please remember that you have the ability to vote, to go to college, to get a job just about anywhere you want, and the freedom to stand up and say so because of women like Frances Willard?

Both of those groups are terribly wrong. Both should admit their prejudices. Both should be more grateful that they have the freedoms they have because of Frances Willard.

Thank you, Frances. I can’t wait to talk to you when I get to Heaven.

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