This is the day that … Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard was born in New York State, in 1839.
She was the middle of three children born to Josiah and Mary Willard in Churchville.
Being a red-headed tomboy, she preferred to be called “Frank”, but the day came when she outgrew that stage. “Next to being an angel” she said, “the greatest bestowment of God is to make one a woman!” (Women to Remember, by N. Olsen, page 77).
She inherited spiritual qualities from her godly parents, was converted in a Methodist ‘revival’ meeting, and joined the Church six months later – 5 May, 1861. And five years later she experienced the “second blessing”, being challenged by a holiness preacher, Phoebe Palmer, to lay all on the altar. “I unconditionally yielded my petty little jewels and … a conscious emotional presence of Christ held me,” she writes.
There was a temporary association with D.L. Moody … who invited her to preach at a Sunday afternoon meeting. She also led Bible study groups and women’s meetings.
But her main claim to fame is her involvement in the war against the liquor industry!
In 1874, “as if by magic, armies of women – delicate, cultured, home women – filled the streets of the cities and towns of Ohio … going to the saloons, singing, praying, preaching with the rum-sellers with all the eloquence of their mother hearts” (The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard, by A.A. Gordon, page 93).
The movement spread to other states, and eventually worldwide.
The driving force behind this was Frances Willard, who became the second National president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.), in 1879, and continued to give a powerful impetus to the movement until her death nearly 20 years later.
In 1895 she was introduced to a US Senate Committee as a “general with an army of 250,000.”
She campaigned for political issues and women in the pulpit, for prison reform and labour conditions … but after her death the W.C.T.U. resorted to just the alcohol issue.
In later years Miss Willard (or “Aunty Frank” as some of her disciples knew her) “espoused Christian Socialism” (Dictionary of Christianity in America, page 1256).
Preaching on the evils of alcohol without proclaiming the message of the Cross is not the theme of Scripture. What the sinner needs is not reformation but regeneration.
Frances Willard died on 17 February, 1898, and 80,000 people filed past her coffin in Willard Hall, Chicago.
Among her dying words are these: “Let me go away, let me be in peace: I am so safe with Him. He has other worlds and I want to go. I have always believed in Christ: He is the incarnation of God”. (A.A. Gordon, page 291). She was also heard to say: “How beautiful it is to be with God.”
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.