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“Cultivating Character: The Early Life of Frances E. Willard”
Frances E. Willard (1839-1898) is known today for her work as the charismatic president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union from 1879 to 1898. But what made her the best-known woman in America at the time of her death in 1898? What forces shaped her?
This exhibit explores how Frances E. Willard’s family, education—both what she received as a student and imparted as a teacher—and religion helped to form the woman who became America’s leading female social reformer of the 1880s and 1890s.
When Willard was fifteen she began keeping journals in which she poured out her soul. From those impassioned entries a detailed description of what she considered important – a loving family, a strong religious faith, and a broad and ongoing education – emerges.
One must cultivate all three elements in order to become a good and worthy person, according to the young Frances Willard, although she feared she would not, could not achieve her goal. “I almost despair, sometimes, of ever coming to be a noble and finished character – and I would rather be this than any or all things in the world.”