National History Day/History Fair 2024


150 Years of Women Changing Lives and Minds, 1874-2024

Anniversaries often commemorate turning points in history—marking the events or ideas that made a difference. For example, National History Day, a turning point in the way history is explored and presented, turns 50 years old in 2024. And the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a turning point in women’s use of power and activism, was founded in 1874—150 years ago.

                                A Turning Point in Women’s Empowerment

What was it like before? The majority of women in the 19th-century United States were wives and mothers who worked inside the home, while men went to their jobs outside it. Politics and even the idea of voting seemed definitely men’s work, too complex and unsavory for women.

What was the turning point? Involvement in social reform efforts convinced women to leave the house and assert themselves in new ways. The WCTU helped empower women to reach this turning point. Founded in 1874 with the goal of reducing or eliminating the damage done to individuals and families by alcoholism, the WCTU became the largest women’s organization in the US in the late 19th century. The organization encouraged women across the country, in small towns and big cities, to speak out in public and to lobby local and national government to address the social issues that caused alcoholism.

What was it like afterwards? WCTU members learned how to advocate for a cause by running a meeting, speaking in public, writing articles, petitioning for change, and lobbying legislatures. The WCTU’s methods and goals became turning points that empowered women across the country and around the world.

Here’s another turning point: 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 bring hidden voices and untold stories to light. For example, our “Truth-Telling” online exhibit at explores the debate between Willard and Ida B. Wells, and a new ongoing project documents the lives and work of the many Black leaders in the WCTU.

How We Can Help You “Do Everything” for History Day

The WCTU Archives is happy to work with History Day / History Fair researchers, whether you choose the national theme, Turning Points in History, or another topic for your project. Here’s what we offer:t

  • See our PDF with research topics and resource recommendation
  • 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
Home page of “Truth-Telling” website

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

     Need more ideas? We have lots of suggestions, plus the primary sources to turn ideas into projects

Contact us!

For more information about doing research using our archives, please email us at [email protected] or fill out the form on our research request page.

We look forward to working with you!

 Frances Willard House Museum and WCTU Archives  1730 Chicago Avenue, Evanston IL                          

 [email protected]