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Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells

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A Community History Project of the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives

In the 1890s, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union President Frances Willard and journalist and activist Ida B. Wells fought a war of words in the international press over Willard’s lack of public support for Wells’ anti-lynching campaign. Wells called Willard’s moral leadership into question and demanded that Willard and the WCTU join her anti-lynching campaign. Under Willard’s leadership, the WCTU eventually passed resolutions opposing lynching, but Willard’s language and actions complicate her legacy.

Until now, this story has never before been told at the museum and archives dedicated to honoring Willard’s life and leadership.

On Thursday March 14, 2019 the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives will launch Truth Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells, a community history project that explores this conflict. The project includes a digital exhibit of original archival sources, community conversations, and public programs. The goal of the project is to uncover the full truth of the conflict, and explore its many meanings and ramifications for our world today. The launch event will include a view of the in-progress digital exhibit, a panel discussion with invited scholars, and audience feedback and conversations.

The launch will take place from 6-8 p.m. in Harris Hall (1881 Sheridan Road),  room 107 at Northwestern University, beginning with a 5:30 public reception. The event is free to the public. Reservations are recommended as seating is limited. RSVP at this link or call 847-328-7500. For more information, click here.



 EVANSTON, IL – On Friday, February 1, 2019, a project was kicked off by the Center for Women’s History and Leadership (CWHL) to upgrade the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s (WCTU) Administration Building. Working with the Evanston architecture firm of McGuire Igleski & Associates, the project will focus on improvements for the safety and comfort of the staff and users of the Frances Willard Memorial Library and Archives and other areas of the building. The project is being funded in part by grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and from Landmarks Illinois.

The WCTU Administration Building, located at the back of 1730 Chicago Avenue in the WCTU Local Historic District in Evanston, was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. In 1910, the WCTU built the new Publications Building behind the Willard House to accommodate their publishing business. In 1922 the building was expanded to include offices for the WCTU headquarters and became the WCTU Administration Building. Both the original building and the addition were designed by noted architect Charles Ayars. In 1939, the centenary of Willard’s birth, Earl Reed, known for his skill as an architect of libraries, designed the addition to the building which was named the Frances Willard Memorial Library for Alcohol Research. Today, it houses the archives of Frances Willard, the WCTU, and related materials.

Glen Madeja, Executive Director of the CWHL, said, “This is a great step forward as part of our mission to safeguard the future of the property and ensure the legacy of the WCTU.  This and other activities recently completed and currently planned provide for the proper stewardship of the Frances Willard House Museum and the Frances Willard Memorial Library and Archives so that they remain open to the public and available to researchers long into the future.”

Current Exhibits

“Cultivating Character:  The Early Life of Frances E. Willard”IMG_0836

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.

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