Frances Willard, the daughter of a schoolteacher, was born in Churchville, New York, on 28th September, 1839. She studied at the Northwestern Female College, Evanston, Illinois and afterwards taught science at Pittsburgh Female College and Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in New York.
In 1871 Willard was appointed president of Northwestern Female College and when it merged with the university, she became college dean and professor of esthetics. Willard also worked as a journalist and for a time was editor of the Chicago Daily Post.
In 1874 Willard helped establish the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The main objective of the WCTU was to persuade all states to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. Under the leadership of Willard (1879-1898), the organisation succeeded in bringing about temperance education in schools. The WCTU also supported the abolition of prostitution, prison reform and women's suffrage.
By 1881 Willard had become president of the WCTU. She was an outstanding lecturer, organizer, writer and for a time was editor of the Chicago Daily Post. Willard published her autobiography, Glimpses of Fifty Years, in 1889.
Williard became a socialist and in 1897 she shocked fellow delegates at the national conference of the Women's Christian Temperance Union when she argued that "socialism is the higher way; it enacts into everyday living the ethics of Christ's gospel. Nothing else will do."