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A suffragist who’s faith changed the world

Phoebe Simcock, 28th Sep 2021
Tags: Life Blog Justice

Our inspirational people series usually features someone more well-known in the celebrity news than our choice today. Whilst our choices are still always inspirational and amazing, this one is a woman who changed the world in so many ways.

She helped to pass two Amendments to the US constitution, travelled far and wide to bring change into the world and lead the largest women’s organisation in 1839. That woman is the remarkable Frances Willard.  

Frances Willard was born in New York on September 28th 1839. Frances started her career as a teacher but handed in her resignation because her teaching was not appreciated by other members of staff. This resignation was a key part of Frances’ life, as now she could take on her key role that meant big changes were to come. 

She focussed now on the temperance movement and participated in founding the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union). The temperance movement was a social movement campaigning for the abolition of alcohol. Frances didn’t want to abolish alcohol simply for the sake of doing it, she saw how deeply it had affected society. 

This mindset was common among women but few were strong enough to take action.

Although traditionally in the 1800s it was men that fell into the temptation of alcohol, it was usually women that dealt with the repercussions such as domestic violence and abandonment. This mindset was common among women but few were strong enough to take action.

As a member of the WCTU, Frances was also campaigning for women’s rights to vote and stood proudly as a suffragist. Suffragists differ from Suffragettes because they worked to get the vote through petitions, speeches and peaceful protests, whereas Suffragettes tended to use violence and fear to get their result. 

Frances Willard’s family were Methodists, so naturally she found her religion to be a familiarity and a comfort to her. She felt very strongly that going to church was not just to listen and agree, it was to use your knowledge to speak out and change the lives of others. Frances knew that there was a better world for many, it just took one person to lead others into a peaceful societal battle.

Frances took on the role as that person, and left others astounded by the changes that she made. Willard’s influence introduced the adoption of the 18th and 19th Amendments to the US Constitution, these were prohibition and the women’s right to vote.

Frances publicised the effects of alcohol and how dangerous it can be.

Prohibition of alcohol was repealed in 1933, and has remained the only amendment to this day that has been repealed. Even though the ban on alcohol caused black market sales and became impossible to handle, Frances publicised the effects of alcohol and how dangerous it can be. This demonstrates that even if something doesn’t work out, it may have helped a small number of people, which is still progress.

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Willard is also known for raising the age of consent in many states for girls, in an attempt to prevent diseases from spreading amongst younger people and unwanted pregnancies for those in their early teens. 

She also passed labour reforms such as the eight-hour workday, so the day was regulated and could be controlled to prevent illness and exhaustion.  

Frances really did change the world, for men and women. She stood against what was then a hierarchy and as inspirational people go, she’s one of a kind.

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