Ida vs. Frances Willard


Ida vs. Frances Willard


The belief that “women” would vote as a block about alcohol animated support and opposition re: suffrage. (It wasn’t ever really true.) The liquor industry lobbied against women’s votes at many junctures, though historians debate how much influence they had. 🧵

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union had massive influence among women, especially very conservative women who were skeptical about suffrage. Frances Willard, leader of WCTU, was one of the most powerful women in the country.

She persuaded her 200,000 members (equiv. to 1.2 million today) that they needed the vote to influence domestic issues. She called it a “Home Protection” ballot. WCTU was a very white, very Christian organization. They did organize Black women, often in segregated chapters.

Leading activists like Frances Watkins Harper & Sarah Woodson Early played national roles, and urged WCTU’s white women to recognize their privilege. Ida B Wells wasn’t a change-from-the-inside kind of activist. She was frustrated at WCTU’s silence about lynching.

WCTU had huge clout among white Southern women, and had they spoken out, it would have been powerful. But they didn’t.

Ida, never hesitating to criticize the powerful when they were being cowardly, publicized racist statements by Frances Willard. Willard responded by patronizing Ida [“If Miss Wells is not careful she will kill her cause…”], and insisting on her own abolitionist bona fides. As you can imagine, the feud went on a long time.

The @FrancesWillard House Museum in Evanston, Ill. & the WCTU Archives @ArchivesWillard collaborated on a really spectacular exhibit & website on the conflict, Truth-Telling: Frances Willard & Ida B. Wells.
It’s got a detailed timeline, short pieces on the era and context, thoughtful personal essays inc. by @MLDWrites, and it’s handsome and easy to navigate. Most importantly, it delivers on its promise.

It’s a model of how to tell the truth about racism and conflict in movements. In refusing to lie for their namesake, @FrancesWillard & @ArchivesWillard make her story more relevant. #Suffrage100

@MDockrayMiller Ooh, good question! Apparently one of the reasons Ida B didn't embrace temperance as a cause is that she enjoyed a social drink - and Ida wd never do anything hypocritical. But I bet @LOsborne615 would know more.


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “Ida vs. Frances Willard,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 22, 2024,

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