Celebrating Archives Month: Frances Willard Memorial Library & Archives

25 Oct 2013 4:28 PM | Anonymous

In June 1913, Illinois granted women the right to vote. The centennial of this watershed moment inspired us to look at Chicago-area collections that provide insight into the suffrage movement and other aspects of women’s history. During National Archives Month (October), we are featuring posts by guest authors who are familiar with some of these collections. Repository information is at the end of each story.

Janet Olson introduces the wealth of material held at the Frances Willard House and Museum in the final post of our series. Olson is the Assistant University Archivist at Northwestern University and the volunteer Archivist for the Frances E. Willard Memorial Library and Archives.

The WCTU and Woman Suffrage: A Right or a Duty?
Janet Olson

From the 1880s until the passage of the 19th amendment, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) played a significant role in the campaign for women’s right to vote. Woman suffrage had not been part of the organization’s original mission, however. WCTU members -- mostly middle-class women -- were generally either opposed to, or non-committal about, becoming involved in the “unwomanly” sphere of politics. But when Frances Willard -- who had always believed that women should be able to vote -- became the second president of the WCTU in 1879, things changed. Willard coined the phrase “Home Protection” to convince women that voting was not just a right -- it was a duty, in keeping with their traditional responsibilities for protecting home and family. Women’s votes could keep saloons from opening in their towns, and liquor from being sold to their husbands and children. In 1881, the WCTU officially added the endorsement of woman suffrage to its mission. After Willard’s death in 1898, the national suffrage organizations distanced themselves from the WCTU, concerned that the connection with temperance was counterproductive, but the WCTU continued to promote suffrage as key to the success of its own mission: the prohibition of alcohol.

The complex, and often overlooked, story of the WCTU’s involvement with suffrage -- from conflict to conviction, from partnering with the major women’s rights groups to mounting its own campaign -- is thoroughly documented, at the state, national, and international levels, in the Frances Willard Memorial Library & Archives. Significant resources include annual meeting minutes, reports of the Franchise Department, editorials and articles in the weekly Union Signal newspaper, pamphlets and publications, biographical information, and Home Protection materials. Notable correspondence includes a letter from Susan B. Anthony congratulating Willard on speaking out for the suffrage cause.

LEFT: Willard with a petition, circa 1880s. RIGHT: Home protection manual, 1879. All images courtesy of the Frances Willard Memorial Library & Archives, Evanston, Illinois.

Frances Willard Memorial Library & Archives
The Frances Willard Historical Association
1730 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, Illinois 60201

Library and archives are open by appointment only

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