Frances Willard House tours reveal the history of suffragism on Chicago Ave. from 1730

During a tour of the Frances Willard House Museum, museum director Lori Osborne gestures to a map on the wall showing how states were slowly allowing women (primarily white) to vote at the municipal, state, and federal levels. Red Xs indicate that suffrage has been decided at the municipal level, red lines indicate partial suffrage, and solid red indicates full suffrage for women. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

If your Chicago Ave. 1730, you might still see a small Victorian cottage with a sweet little garden and tchotchkes on the shelves, says Lori Osborne, museum director of the Frances Willard House.

But the house’s tranquil appearance can be deceiving – from the early 1800s to the 20th century, the building also served as a busy women’s workspace, housing the headquarters of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union – the largest women’s organization in the world. from 1890.

Frances Willard, whose family built the house, was the second president of the WCTU in 1879, just five years after its founding. She lived in the house with her mother.

Osborne said Willard reached leadership because her vision was broad: “She says, we’re not just about temperance, we’re about women’s rights. We deal with all the problems that cause people to drink. … If you have poverty, if you have bad working conditions, if you have all these problems that lower your quality of life, what do you do? [men] to do? They go to the saloon.”

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day – the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women’s suffrage, was certified 102 years ago to this date. In honor of Willard’s work, the Frances Willard House Museum hosted special voting-themed tours on Thursday, August 25 and Sunday, August 28.

Almost everything in the house is still as it was when Willard died in 1898. During the Thursday afternoon 1pm tour, the museum director painted a vivid picture of what the house looked like before it was converted into a museum in 1900.

Francis Willard and her sister Mary moved to Evanston in 1858 to attend a small women’s college, and her parents, Josiah Willard and Mary Thompson, followed her. The family was Methodist, and a Methodist college (Northwestern) is just down the road. Not only that, Osborne added, but the family was also interested in the temperance and women’s rights reform movements that started in Evanston.

Museum director Lori Osborne gestures to the Willard family’s bookshelf as she gives a tour of the Frances Willard House Museum. Credit: Debbie-Marie Brown

In one of the common areas on the first floor is a collection of furniture that doesn’t exactly match because the family didn’t have much money when they came – but there is also a library. “Books are very expensive in those days. And they’re one of the most important assets they have,” Osborne said.

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