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  • Writer's pictureBunny S. Galladora

Time to Celebrate - It's Frances Willard Day

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard was born on September 28, 1839, in Churchville, New York.

Frances Willard Day is officially celebrated annually in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

On September 28th, public schools in those states commemorate her achievements in various educational activities. The day "provides a platform to acknowledge Willard's life and contribution to the nation."

Frances Willard was one of the most influential women in the United States in the late 1800s. She was president of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) from 1879 until her death in 1898.

She was a vivid, magnetic person, with a flair for publicity that was unique at that time. She was an organizing genius. Frances Willard built the WCTU into the largest woman's organization in the United States by administering programs on the state and local level. Often women supported the temperance movement because as married women, they had no legal protection under the law against physical abuse or abandonment by a drunken husband.

Frances Willard went around the United States speaking in every state and every territory, in cities and small towns. She stirred women into action by encouraging them to participate in a program she called Home Protection.

To Frances Willard, the WCTU was more than a "temperance movement." It was an opportunity to expand the thinking of women all over the country by introducing them to thirty-nine Home Protection activities. To her, "Everything" meant kindergartens, legislation to improve the status of women, physical culture, health programs, hygiene, woman suffrage, welfare work in prisons, programs for Indians, blacks, and immigrants, peace programs, mothers' problem circles, school savings banks, a police matron program and much more.

WCTU members worked For God and Home and Native Land (later changed to For God and Home and Every Land). Frances Willard knew how to make every new program sound like a necessary and challenging part of a woman's life. National conventions were exciting and well attended. The hall was decorated with flags and flowers. Stirring music filled the air.

Under her leadership, the WCTU grew to 10,000 local unions, supervised by state unions and 57 state unions supervised by the national union.

Frances Willard was so loved and respected that her funeral service was attended by 2,000 people in New York, the city where she died. Chauncy M. Depew, then president of the New York Central Railroad, provided a special funeral car to take her body to Chicago. There some 20,000 people, many of whom had waited hours in blustering cold winter weather, filed past her coffin.

Source: From the WCTU Archives. All Rights Reserved.

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