IAN R. TYRRELL
Frances Willard was one of the towering figures of nineteenth-century American reform. For more than eighteen years after 1879 she led the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to unprecedented heights of popularity and influence. Journalists hailed her as the "uncrowned Queen of America"; she was treated as a "representative woman" akin to the male business and community leaders whose portraits adorn nineteenth-century biographical compilations. Adored by middle-class American women supporters as "St. Frances," she became a figure on the world stage through the World's WCTU and her visits to England in the 1890s. After her death from pernicious anaemia at the age of fifty-nine, on 17 February 1898, the state of Illinois honored her memory in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. capitol. When Willard's marble statue was placed there in 1905, Senator Albert Beveridge described her as "the first woman of the nineteenth century, the most beloved character of her time."
Born 28 September 1839, in Churchville, New York, and raised on a Wisconsin farm by her devout Christian parents, Frances Willard developed a tomboyish streak that made her feel women could be the equal of men. Her father Josiah's discipline was harsh, and Frances gravitated emotionally toward her mother, Mary Thompson Willard, whom she venerated until the latter's death in 1892. Willard loved her father, or so she said, and nursed him until he died from tuberculosis in 1868. It was "Mother" Willard who encouraged Frances in her desire to obtain an education. Willard first attended college in Milwaukee and then in Evanston, Illinois, where she lived for the last thirty years of her life. She served after graduation from the (Methodist) Northwestern Female College in 1859 as a schoolteacher and then traveled in Europe in 1868-1869 with a wealthy former classmate, Kate Jackson. When she returned, Willard was appointed president of her alma mater; she resigned in 1874 because of a dispute