Frances E. Willard
by Harriet A. Townsend, 1916
From Reminiscences of Famous Women by Harriet A. Townsend. This edition originally published in 1916.
The etext has been reformatted, redesigned and hyperlinked to add to its usefulness as a research document.
This version: Copyright © 2000 Jone Johnson Lewis. All Rights Reserved.
Frances E. Willard was an honored member of the Association for the Advancement of Women. She came to a mid-year conference in my home city and was resent at the opening service for our Women's Educational and Industrial Union. She spoke there of the need of Police Matrons in every large city and her seed prospered in quick time. She told of the beginning of her temperance work and of the reasons which caused her to dedicate her life to that object. Our acquaintance began with that meeting and lasted to the end of her eventful life.
Perhaps the most vivid memory which I hold of the great woman is of hearing her speak in Washington at the gathering of the International Council of Women. Miss Willard came forward at the call of the president of the Council to give greeting from the National Temperance Union. A great audience of men and women filled the opera house. She was the guest of Mrs. Cleveland, herself a loyal temperance woman and present on this occasion. Members of the Cabinet and of the Senate and the House were there. Miss Willard won instant attention, her exquisite personality was so marked; her marvelous voice- "like a silver trumpet sounding the note of human right"-thrilled every heart. She spoke first of the objects of the council and told an apt story of two little sisters climbing a slippery hill, when the younger, reaching up a hand to the other, said, "Let us take hold of hands, it is easier so." Then was defined the objects of her own beloved work as none but she could do.
As she continued, she seemed to be stirred by a troubled thought to which she must give utterance. Miss Willard was a recent convert to the suffrage cause. Many of her followers, plain home women, had no desire for the ballot. Giving in clear, concise terms her own reasons, she told a story remarkable in its appeal to her audience.
"I was in General Washington's kitchen at Mount Vernon last week and had a delightful visit with Aunt Dinah, the presiding genius of the place. Always seeking for information on the suffrage question, I asked her Aunt Dinah, do you want to vote? The old woman stood up at the question with arms akimbo, exclaimed Well, honey, you know that Uncle Sam's kitchen needs a cl'aring out once in a while, and when you are going to cl'ar out a kitchen you have got to have a woman to do it!" The immense audience gave vent to its delight in every way possible. It was not easy to restore quiet for Miss Willard to finish her address. Perhaps the fact that some recent incidents in legislative halls had not met the approval of the best minds gave zest to the ovation.
Frances Willard did not live to be old, but a more fruitful life never existed. No common word could give justice to her personal charm. Her friendship enriched all it encircled. When the Bishop of London was in New York city he repeated the following story:
Someone asked of Emerson, "Why do you go to hear Father Taylor preach? You do not believe as he does." "No, but I always like to listen to people who know the Lord."
Frances Willard knew the Lord. "She lived by the inward vision in the soul's native air."
Introduction | Julia Ward Howe | Susan B. Anthony | Frances E. Willard | Maria Mitchell | Abby Morton Diaz