Suffrage Saturday: Frances Willard Postcard

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Frances Willard Postcard
Frances Willard Postcard, c 1912

 Payne Family, Women’s Suffrage

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard was born in 1839 in Churchville, New York, and was an educator, activist, and reformer who touched the lives of many of our ancestors. Even schoolchildren of her day knew about her work for alcohol temperance, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, eight hour workdays, domestic violence laws, education and labor reforms, prison reform, and other social causes.

Frances lived in liberal Oberlin, Ohio from age 2-6 (about 1841-1845), where her father had taken the family to be a part of Oberlin’s ministry. Our ancestor, Joseph Hitchcock Payne (father of Edward B. Payne) had attended Oberlin in 1834-1836, where he studied Divinity, and EB Payne attended Oberlin later as well. They were like-minded families with their work toward social equality and conversion from Congregationalism to a more liberal denomination: the Willards converted to Methodism, and while JH Payne did not convert, his son EB Payne moved even farther to the left with his change to Unitarianism. The Willard family then moved to Janesville, Wisconsin Territory, about 1846, and Frances grew up an independent child of the frontier.

The Willards valued education for both male and female, and Frances attended college as her brother did. She was named President of Evanston College for Ladies in 1871, which was associated with, and two years later merged with, Northwestern University. “Frank” as she was called by her friends, became the Dean of Women at Northwestern, and also a professor of art and English. She resigned in 1874 after continued conflict with Northwestern’s president, Charles H. Fowler, to whom she had been engaged 13 years before.

The “Woman’s Crusade” for antiliquor laws was gaining ground and Frances became president of a Chicago temperance organization. She lectured and held other positions in local and national temperance societies, including the largest, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Temperance (control of alcohol by law) was an important women’s issue- alcoholic men would drink up their pay even before they got home where it was needed for food and lodging for their families. Women would work what jobs they could, such as taking in laundry, to help compensate and feed their large families; even the youngest of the children might have to work in factories or on the streets instead of attending school in order for the family to not go hungry. Domestic abuse was rampant and very frequently linked to alcohol, so women felt that restrictive alcohol laws might give their children and themselves better lives.

In 1877, Willard was director of women’s meetings for Dwight L. Moody, a Chicago evangelist. Our ancestor, Edward B. Payne, had also worked with Moody earlier, 1870-1871, when EB was newly married to Nannie Burnell and they lived in Chicago. Moody worked in the poorest tenements of Chicago, as did our ancestor, who was also working as a librarian by day, and doing Moody’s ‘night work’ to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty.

Frances Willard only worked briefly for Moody, and left the national WCTU in 1877, as she had wanted to link women’s suffrage with the temperance movement, but the WCTU president wished to keep the issue only alcohol prohibition. Suffrage became the main topic of the lectures given by Frances throughout 1878, but she became the national WCTU president in 1879, and held that post for the remainder of her life.

Frances Willard Postcard-Reverse
Frances Willard Postcard-Reverse

[Editor’s Note: It may seem silly to post the back of the card especially when it does not have an address or note, but postcard enthusiasts can date and sometimes even determine manufacturer of the card by the way the back is divided, typeface, stamp box, etc.]

Frances was able to support herself on lecture fees, and she traveled to every state then in the Union in 1883. She traveled 30,000 miles per year (before airplanes!) and gave an average of 400 lectures per year for  period of about ten years. In 1886, the WCTU provided her a salary to continue her work. The WCTU was the largest organized group of women in the 19th century.

The platform used by Willard to gain acceptance of women’s suffrage by the average woman was “Home Protection.” By having the right to vote, women could protect their home and family from the “devastation” caused by legal, strong drink. Additionally, if women had a voice in choosing civic leaders and therefore the laws they made, men would not be able to so easily get leniency for the crimes they committed against women and children. Patriarchal ministers, press, and society tried to turn women away from the suffrage movement, but Frances also used her interpretation of Scripture to argue for equality between the sexes: “God sets male and female side by side throughout his realm of law.”

Politics was a world that women should be a part of, per many of the speeches Frances gave. About 1893, a large painting was commissioned that showed Frances with an American Indian, an “idiot” or mentally disabled man, a convict, and an insane man. It was entitled “American Woman and Her Political Peers.” Henrietta Briggs-Wall, a Kansas suffrage and temperance advocate, had commissioned the painting, and exhibited it at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1894 she said, of its display:

“It strikes the women every time. They do not realize that we are classed with idiots, criminals, and the insane as they do when they see that picture. Shocking? Well, it takes a shock to arouse some people to a sense of injustice and degradation.”

Frances learned to ride the bicycle in the 1893, when she was 53- quite a rebellious feat for a woman in those days!  (How did they kept those long skirts out of the way??) She wrote a sweet little book about it, which shows us that the bicycle was a key to freedom for many women, as well as men. She felt that mastery of the bicycle would help women to gain mastery over their lives- the ‘wheel within a wheel’concept.

A popular speaker around the world, and especially in England, Frances also drew attention to the international drug trade with the “Polyglot Petition.”

Trips to Europe and new Socialist thought intrigued Frances, and she became a Socialist in her later years. Her political and social thoughts again paralleled those of Edward B. Payne- he declared himself a Socialist as well in the 1890s.

The work of Frances Willard was pivotal in the passage of the 18th (Prohibition) and 19th (Women’s Suffrage) Amendments. Sadly, she did not live to see the passage of either, as she died of influenza in 1898 in New York City while waiting to embark upon a ship for a lecture tour in England and France.

In 1905, a statue of Frances Willard was submitted by the state of Illinois (she lived in Evanston for many years) to Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. It was the only statue of a woman in the hall until 1958. Today, there are just eight women represented among the 100 official statues placed in Statuary Hall and throughout the Capitol.

"Statue of Frances Willard in the US Capitol" by RadioFan at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Frances_Willard_in_the_US_Capitol.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Statue_of_Frances_Willard_in_the_US_Capitol.JPG
“Statue of Frances Willard in the US Capitol” by RadioFan at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Frances Willard entry in the Encyclopedia Brittanica: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/643926/Frances-Willard

2) http://www.franceswillardhouse.org

3) Wheel within a Wheel. How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle with some reflections by the way. Frances Willard, 1895.Fleming H. Revel Company. https://archive.org/details/wheelwithinwheel00williala

Republished in 1991 as How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle: Reflections of an Influential 19th Century Woman, Carol O’Hare, editor.

A short book that really is about learning to ride a bicycle- sounds silly, but in the 1890s that was a really outrageous thing for a woman to do! The first 10 pages or so give quite a glimpse into life as it was for women. The “Wheel within a Wheel” portion of the title has to do with a Bible verse in Ezekiel, showing the many layers of an action or spirituality.

4) Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Willard_(suffragist)

5) American Woman and Her Political Peers: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004681894/

http://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/cool-things-american-woman-and-her-political-peers-painting/10294

6) Statue of Frances Willard: “Statue of Frances Willard in the US Capitol” by RadioFan at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Frances_Willard_in_the_US_Capitol.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Statue_of_Frances_Willard_in_the_US_Capitol.JPG

7) The featured postcard is owned by the author. It is one of a trio of postcards on American suffragists. (Would love to own the other two!) The seller of this postcard was kind enough to send me scans of those two in her collection, and has given permission for them to be posted in an upcoming “Suffrage Saturday” post.

 

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