The Frances Willard House Museum and Archives in Evanston, IL, document the life of social reformer Frances Willard (who lived in Evanston most of her life) and the history of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the largest U.S. women’s organization of the 19th century, with a world-wide presence. In addition to the history of the WCTU’s work for temperance and for the prohibition and woman suffrage amendments, the WCTU Archives is an unexpected resource for Chicago stories, national and international stories of women’s empowerment, and stories of innovation, change, and conflict.
Into Uncharted Territory: The WCTU on the Frontiers of History
Members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) were pioneers on many frontiers. They were women who fought against societal expectations to insure a better life for their families through wide-ranging social change. Though women couldn’t vote when the organization was founded in 1874, the WCTU was at the forefront of teaching women how to “agitate, educate, and legislate,” as influential leader Frances Willard put it. WCTU members pushed the boundaries of women’s roles, moving out of their accepted place in the domestic sphere and into the world of protesting, lobbying, petitioning, and public speaking.
The foundational goal of WCTU leaders was the elimination of alcohol that destroyed many families. They soon realized that alcoholism was influenced by factors ranging from poverty to powerlessness. Willard expanded the WCTU mission to “Do Everything” to improve social conditions and prevent addiction. And the WCTU’s “Home Protection” campaign convinced women that they needed to be able to vote in order to shape legislation that affected their families. WCTU members pushed social boundaries, crossing new frontiers in the U.S. and the world, and paving the way for women to vote, lead, and effect positive change.
“IDEAS AS FRONTIERS: Frontiers are not just geographical. Another definition of frontier is ‘an undeveloped field of study’… Frontiers are crossed by those who challenge conventional thinking.” (from the NHD website)
The Frances Willard House Museum and WCTU Archives is also at the frontier of historical research. Historians have realized that the story of our country has often left out many voices, including those of women and people of color. The extensive primary sources in our Archives can help bring hidden voices and untold stories to light in unexpected ways. The WCTU intersected with women in almost every city and town in the U.S., and in countries around the world. (For example, our “Truth-Telling” online exhibit (see link below) explores the debate between Willard and Ida B. Wells, and a new ongoing project will document the lives and work of the many Black leaders in the WCTU.)
You will find many primary sources in the WCTU Archives to inspire a project based on the theme of Frontiers in History–or on another theme you choose.
How We Can Help You “Do Everything” for History Day
- See our PDF with research topics and resource recommendations
- On-site research: for those who feel comfortable visiting in person for research, the Archives is open by appointment for individuals or teams of 2 to 3.
- Consultation about your project by phone or email
- Virtual interviews
- Scans of photos and documents from our collection
Featured Resource: “Truth-Telling”
Our comprehensive digital resource, “Truth-Telling,” uses primary sources to document the conflict between Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells in the 1890s, and shows how their debate took place through newspaper articles and speeches.
Some Topic Ideas for Projects
- The Frances Willard/Ida B. Wells Debate
- Knowledge is Power: Women and Education
- Domestic Frontiers: The Home Protection Campaign and Women’s Changing Roles
- The Uncharted Territory of Prohibition
- Uncovering Hidden Voices: African American Women in the WCTU
- Towards a New World: The WCTU Fights for Suffrage
- “Do Everything”: On the Frontiers of Social Change [including topics such as prison reform, Labor and Child Welfare Laws, Dress reform, Increasing the Age of Consent for Sex]
- The Power of the Petition: Women’s Tools to Push Boundaries
- Oratory for Women: Skills for Debate and Public Speaking
- Should Women Preach?
- Scientific Temperance Instruction: Injecting Temperance into Education
- Learning Leadership: WCTU as an Incubator for Women’s Activism
Need more ideas?
- Be inspired by our blog posts: https://franceswillardhouse.org/blog/
- Check out the list of topics covered by our Subject and Biographical files: https://tinyurl.com/4p94vyyf
- Look at our Digital Exhibits
We look forward to working with you!
Frances Willard House Museum and WCTU Archives 1730 Chicago Avenue, Evanston IL