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Evanston and the Fight for the Vote

Woman's Christian Temperance Union

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. Frances Willard attended the founding convention and was elected the organization's first Corresponding Secretary. In 1879 Willard was elected President of the WCTU, the largest women’s organization in the world, until her death in 1898, and led the organization into being one of the strongest advocates for women's rights and women’s suffrage and eventually became an anti-lynching advocate.

As president of the WCTU, Willard adopted the “Do Everything” policy: she encouraged the NCW's members to advocate for reform in many different areas, such as child abuse, prostitution, women’s prisons, and women’s suffrage.  She did this by expanding on Elizabeth Harbert’s idea of women’s benevolent influence coming through in their votes. She advocated for women’s right to vote as part of women’s role in “home protection.” Her argument was that surely women would do no harm and actually had every right to be allowed to vote on matters related to protecting their homes and their children (school board elections, temperance laws, etc.) as that was simply a logical extension of their traditional role.  By 1890, the organization had grown to more than 200,000 members, making it the largest women's organization in the world. 

Willard’s “home protection” argument brought thousands of women to the suffrage cause who would have otherwise found it too radical. And, the WCTU was so large that its support of suffrage carried the movement into the 20th century. But it also brought the suffrage movement its biggest foes – the brewers and distillers who actively worked to prevent women from gaining more of a public role. And, its embrace (even if for strategic advantage) of women’s traditional role was not without detractors.

During this time, her home in Evanston, Rest Cottage, at 1730 Chicago Avenue, served as her primary workspace but also a center for WCTU work. Offices for the organization were created in the home and several bedrooms served as dormitory space. The organization officially moved its headquarters to the house in 1900 after Willard's death in 1898. That same year the WCTU opened the house as a museum and memorial to her.

Home Protection Petition, 1880.

Through the WCTU Frances Willard introduced the Home Protection Ballot--which would grant women the right to vote alongside men on the question of granting local liquor licenses.

The WCTU worked hard to build support for the Home Protection Ballot. They organized and lobbied in Springfield, which Willard led. In the spring of 1879, the WCTU gathered 170,000 signatures, which were presented to the state legislature. In April, Willard came before the Illinois State Senate arguing for the passage of the Ballot, renamed the Hinds Bill after Illinois rep. Andrew Hinds, a strong supporter of the bill.

While Willard gave an eloquent speech about the importance of passing the proposed legislation, the bill was defeated when it came to a vote in the summer of 1879. 

Frances E. Willard
Woman's Christian Temperance Union