Frances Willard Historical Association holds campaign to raise awareness about her activism

The Frances Willard House, 1730 Chicago Ave., is covered in snow Wednesday. The Frances Willard Historical Association is celebrating Willard’s 175th birthday in an attempt to reintroduce her to the public.

Sean Hong/Daily Senior Staffer

The Frances Willard House, 1730 Chicago Ave., is covered in snow Wednesday. The Frances Willard Historical Association is celebrating Willard’s 175th birthday in an attempt to reintroduce her to the public.

Jennifer Ball, Reporter

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In honor of Frances Willard’s 175th birthday, the nonprofit dedicated to her life’s work is sponsoring an initiative to raise awareness of her role as a social activist.

“A lot of people have lost sight of what her legacy was all about,” said Glen Madeja, executive director of the Frances Willard Historical Association. “This was a visionary woman and social activist. Many of the issues she worked on and advocated for are still being worked on today by many community leaders.”

The organization tries to educate people about Willard’s mark on society beyond her famous role as the president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The association encourages people to continue Willard’s mission, which she herself called the “Do everything” policy — which meant she thought obtaining women’s rights entailed not only getting the vote but also other reforms such as equal pay for equal work. 

“She recognized that those differences were wrong based on gender,” Madeja said. “We try to revive the issues she worked on in her day and say that the work isn’t finished.”

Part of the initiative includes two events, including one on Saturday where community members will have the opportunity to volunteer in honor of Willard and the other on Sunday March 16 when the Frances Willard House Museum will hold an open house.

Residents are encouraged to volunteer for organizations with missions that align with Willard’s vision and work, including Youth Organizations Umbrella, Connections for the Homeless and the Youth Job Center, among others, said Ann Carstensen, FWHA board treasurer. 

While walking through Willard’s preserved Evanston home, residents will be able to see books including the family Bible, portraits and furniture originating from 1865, when the house was built. The building itself is the oldest house museum dedicated to a woman in the United States, Madeja said. 

The deep history of the building is why FWHA board president Kris Hartzell first became involved with the organization. However, upon further investigation, she learned more about the woman who lived there.

The common misperception is that Willard, president of the WCTU, was responsible for making Evanston a dry city. But Northwestern actually initiated the law that prohibited the sale of alcohol within a four-mile radius of the University years before Willard even moved to town, according to Evanston Public Library’s “A Brief History of Evanston.” 

Domestic violence was also more prevalent in Willard’s time, Hartzell said. “When we view Frances from a current-day perspective, we don’t understand what she was up against,” Hartzell said. “She was fighting for women’s rights. I would like Evanstonians to understand the true nature of the woman who lived here.”

Although the FWHA is a small organization, its partnerships have been increasing, Hartzell said.

“We’re very appreciative of everyone who is joining us and learning more about Frances,” she said.

Willard’s legacy reached across different areas of social justice: prison reform, women’s rights outside of marriage and child labor laws. Hartzell explained that these reforms are due to Willard’s raising awareness of the underlying injustice.

“All of these things we take for granted, so much of that is based on Frances Willard’s work,” Hartzell said.

Email: jenniferball2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @jennifercball

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