Frances Willard House Museum and Archives

On August 26, 2020, it will be 100 years since the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted into the U.S. Constitution.  The Nineteenth Amendment granted women throughout the United States the right to vote.  Prior to that, some states permitted women the right to vote (the state of Wyoming as early as 1869), but once the U.S. Constitution added the amendment, the entire country had to allow it. 

Frances Willard was one of the many American suffragettes who fought for women’s enfranchisement in the United States.  Although not a widely recognized name today, during her time, many people knew of her.  In fact, in 1905, Illinois presented a statue of Frances Willard to the U.S. Capitol Building’s National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington D.C., where it still stands today.  All fifty states are required to have 2 statues in the U.S. Capitol Building’s National Statuary Hall Collection, each of which represents a famous inhabitant from that respective state.  Illinois’ statue of Frances Willard was the first statue of a woman added to the collection.

Frances Willard lived from 1839 to 1898.  Two years after her death, Willard’s Evanston home became a museum, and, according to a September 29, 2019 article in The Daily Northwestern, became the first museum in the United States dedicated solely to a woman.  The house still functions as a museum dedicated to Willard today.  Prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, the museum offered several tours of Willard’s home on Sunday afternoons.  It also maintains a library and archives available to researchers upon appointment.

Willard’s Gothic Revival home was built by her father in 1865.  For a time, Willard served as the first dean of women at neighboring Northwestern University.  Afterwards, she helped found the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874.  The goal of the organization is (it still exists) to ban alcohol in the United States.  It may not seem obvious at first, but the reasoning behind this movement was to protect women.  As alcoholism continued to increase among the United States’ male population, women suffered.  Alcoholism largely contributed to domestic abuse against women, and also joblessness among men, who then lost their ability to provide for their wives and children.  Thus, by eradicating alcohol, the WCTU believed it was empowering women.  In order to give women a larger voice against alcohol, Willard believed that educated women ought to be granted the right to vote.  This is what led her to also become a suffragette.

Tours of Willard’s home last about an hour.  While the tour guide takes you throughout the home, he/she describes the history of the house, as well as Willard’s activism and personal life.  The house is beautiful, and since it became a museum soon after Willard’s death, retains much of Willard’s original furniture and objects.  That includes all of her books.  Perhaps one of the most interesting objects in the museum is Willard’s bicycle.  Willard first learned how to ride a bicycle at the age of 53, and then became an advocate for women to ride bicycles.

Frances Willard’s cremated remains are buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.

If you are ever in Evanston, Illinois, near Northwestern University, it is worth visiting Frances Willard’s home.

Sources and Further Reading

“The 19th Amendment: A Crash Course.” National Park Service. October 9, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/2020-crash-course.htm (accessed July 25, 2020).

“About the National Statuary Hall Collection.” Architect of the Capitol. https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/art/about-national-statuary-hall-collection (accessed July 25, 2020).

“Biography.” Francis Willard House Museum and Archives. https://franceswillardhouse.org/frances-willard/biography/ (accessed July 25, 2020).

Buchaniec, Catherine. “A Hundred Years after Ratification, Frances Willard’s Legacy Remains Vital to the 19th Amendment.” The Daily Northwestern. June 26, 2019. https://dailynorthwestern.com/2019/06/26/city/a-hundred-years-after-ratification-frances-willards-legacy-remains-vital-to-the-19th-amendment/ (accessed July 25, 2020).

“Frances E. Willard.” Architect of the Capitol. https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/art/frances-e-willard (accessed July 25, 2020).

Miller, Zoe. “When Women Got the Right to Vote in 25 Places around the World.” Insider. March 8, 2020. https://www.insider.com/when-women-around-the-world-got-the-right-to-vote-2019-2 (accessed July 25, 2020).

Rowan, Andrew. “Willard House Museum Celebrates Visionary Leader’s 180th Birthday with Open House. The Daily Northwestern. September 29, 2019. https://dailynorthwestern.com/2019/09/29/campus/willard-house-museum-celebrates-visionary-leaders-180th-birthday-with-open-house/ (accessed July 25, 2020).

“When Women Received the Full Vote in Every Country: Interactive Timeline.” Historic Newspapers. https://www.historic-newspapers.com/womens-suffrage-timeline/ (accessed July 25, 2020).

“Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment.” U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/woman-suffrage (accessed July 25, 2020).

“Women’s Suffrage.” Francis Willard House Museum and Archives. https://franceswillardhouse.org/frances-willard/womens-suffrage/ (accessed July 25, 2020).