Study Guide

Frances Willard in 18th and 21st Amendments

By United States Congress

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Frances Willard

It sounds insane to us now, but there was a time when women weren't allowed to vote. Fortunately, some people realized this was crazy even while living through it. Frances Willard was one of these people, and she's a major reason why over half of the population can vote today.

Though born in New York, Willard spent her formative years out in the frontier areas of Wisconsin. She was a rough-and tumble girl and generally preferred the nickname "Frank." She was also pretty darn smart, going and getting an education when this was far from common for women. She immediately began teaching and by 1871 she was the dean of women at Northwestern.

She joined the Women's Christian Temperance Organization in 1874, leaving her college life behind. She instantly butted heads with the leader of the WCTU, Annie Wittenmeyer, over a mission statement for the group. Willard wanted it to include suffrage, while Wittenmeyer was more focused on alcohol temperance.

When Willard took over the organization in 1879, it didn't matter. Willard supported all kinds of women's rights, like raising the age of consent, holding male customers as responsible for crime as the prostitutes they visited, and even establishing rape laws. That was pretty radical stuff at the time. Still is, unfortunately.

Willard never married, though she had several close friendships with women. In particular, Anna Gordon was her personal secretary and traveling companion for 22 years, and Willard's diary talked about "a secret love." Because of this, she's sometimes seen as an LGBT icon.

Willard largely saw Prohibition as one aspect of the much larger issue of women's rights. Unfortunately, Willard died twenty-two years before women received the right to vote. So whenever you're feeling overwhelmed by your problems, remember how much she accomplished in a world in which it was illegal for her to express a political opinion.

Those are problems.

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