Frances Willard

Frances Willard (1839-1898)

Frances Willard portrait dated before 1898, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The famed temperance leader today is often associated with the slogan “Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.” However, Frances Willard could just as easily be associated with the rallying cry “Votes for Women.”

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in the United States, which she led for the last 19 years of her life, was more than a scourge of saloons. During Willard’s presidency, the group sought to improve working conditions in factories, institute an eight-hour workday, raise the age of consent for girls and secure for women the right to vote.

Willard also pushed for votes in her own Methodist Episcopal Church. She and five other women were elected to serve as delegates to the 1888 General Conference in New York. Because of an ailing mother, Willard ultimately did not attend, and General Conference refused to seat the distaff delegates.

Harriett Jane Olson, the chief executive officer of United Methodist Women, said Willard’s efforts all went back to the same goal — improving the lives of the marginalized, especially women and girls.

“She was doing what we (in the UMW) try to do, which is to respond to the needs of the world and the call of God. That’s what she devoted her life to,” Olson said.

Like Truth, Willard did not live to see much of her work come to fruition, but both women helped bring the quest for voting rights to greater national attention.

March is Women’s History Month. Activists today may be inspired to hear the stories of six historic figures who advocated for women’s voting rights as part of their Christian calling.


This article is written by Heather Hahn and published by the United Methodist News Service on Nov. 3, 2016.

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or


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