Frances Willard (1839–1898) never married; instead, she devoted her life to teaching and promoting the rights of American women. Liberally educated and independently wealthy, Willard helped found the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874 and served as its president from 1879 until her death. . . .

Frances Willard, between 1880 and 1898. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ61-790.

Frances Willard (1839–1898) never married; instead, she devoted her life to teaching and promoting the rights of American women. Liberally educated and independently wealthy, Willard helped found the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1874 and served as its president from 1879 until her death. A Methodist in the pietistic tradition, Willard embraced the zeal of the Holiness Movement for radical reform; she saw personal purity as the prerequisite to the cultural and spiritual sanctification that would mark the “new heavens and the new earth” spoken of in the Bible. As president of the WCTU she adopted the motto “do everything” to summarize the mission of the WCTU: in addition to promoting individual abstinence from alcohol and prohibition laws, under her leadership, the organization embraced a wide-ranging policy agenda including dress reform, married women’s property laws, labor issues, and suffrage.

The WCTU was a founding member the National Council for Women (1888), the International Council of Women (1893), and the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations (1945). It remains loyal to Willard’s “do everything” policy and advocates for the rights of women and the protection of home and family life around the globe.

Source: Frances Willard, Address before the Second Biennial Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Twentieth Annual Convention of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union (London: White Ribbon Publishing Co., 1893).


Beloved Comrades of the White Ribbon Army:[1]

When we began the delicate, difficult, and dangerous operation of dissecting out the alcohol nerve from the body politic, we did not realize the intricacy of the undertaking nor the distances that must be traversed by the scalpel of investigation and research. In about seventy days from now, twenty years will have elapsed since the call of battle sounded its bugle note among the homes and hearts of Hillsboro’, Ohio. We have all been refreshing our knowledge of those days by reading the “Crusade Sketches” of its heroic leader, Mrs. Eliza J. Thompson, “the mother of us all,” and we know that but one thought, sentiment and purpose animated those saintly “Praying Bands” whose name will never die out from human history. “Brothers, we beg you not to drink and not to sell!” This was the one wailing note of these moral Paganinis,[2] playing on one string. It caught the universal ear and set the key of that mighty orchestra, organized with so much toil and hardship, in which the tender and exalted strain of the Crusade violin still soars aloft, but up borne now by the clanging cornets of science, the deep trombones of legislation, and the thunderous drums of politics and parties. The “Do Everything Policy” was not of our choosing but is an evolution as inevitable as any traced by the naturalist or described by the historian. Woman’s genius for details, and her patient steadfastness in following the enemies of those she loves “through every lane of life,” have led her to antagonize the alcohol habit and the liquor traffic just where they are, wherever that may be. If she does this, since they are everywhere, her policy will be “Do Everything.”

A one-sided movement makes one-sided advocates. Virtues, like hounds, hunt in packs. Total abstinence is not the crucial virtue in life that excuses financial crookedness, defamation of character, or habits of impurity. The fact that one’s father was, and one’s self is, a bright and shining light in the total abstinence galaxy, does not give one a vantage ground for high-handed behavior toward those who have not been trained to the special virtue that forms the central idea of the Temperance Movement. We have known persons who, because they had “never touched a drop of liquor,” set themselves up as if they belonged to a royal line, but whose tongues were as biting as alcohol itself, and whose narrowness had no competitor save a straight line. An all-round movement can only be carried forward by all-round advocates; a scientific age requires the study of every subject in its correlations. It was once supposed that light, heat, and electricity were wholly separate entities; it is now believed and practically proved that they are but different modes of motion. Standing in the valley we look up and think we see an isolated mountain; climbing to its top we see that it is but one member of a range of mountains many of them of well-nigh equal altitude.

Some bright women who have opposed the “Do-Everything Policy” used as their favorite illustration a flowing river, and expatiated on the ruin that would follow if that river (which represents their do-one-thing policy) were diverted into many channels, but it should be remembered that the most useful of all rivers is the Nile, and that the agricultural economy of Egypt consists in the effort to spread its waters upon as many fields as possible. It is not for the river’s sake that it flows through the country but for the sake of the fertility it can bring upon adjoining fields, and this is pre-eminently true of the Temperance Reform.

Joseph Cook, that devoted friend of every good cause has wisely said: “If England were at war with Russia, and the latter were to have several allies, it would obviously be necessary for England to attack the allies as well as the principal enemy.”[3] Not to do this would be foolishness, and might be suicide. In the conflict with the liquor traffic, the policy of the WCTU is to attack not only the chief foe, but also its notorious and open allies. This is the course dictated not only by common sense, but by absolute necessity. If the home is to be protected, not only must the dram-shop be made an outlaw, but its allies, the gambling hells, the houses of unreportable infamy, the ignorance of the general population as to alcoholics and other narcotics, the timidity of trade, the venality of portions of the press, and especially the subserviency of political parties to the liquor traffic, must be assailed as confederates of the chief enemy of the home. . . . It is certain that the broad and progressive policy of the WCTU in the United States makes the whiskey rings and time-serving politicians greatly dread its influence. They honor the Union by frequent and bitter attacks. It is a recognized power in international affairs. If its policy were made narrow and non-partisan, its influence would immensely wane in practical matters of great importance. . . . Instead of the National W.C.T.U. having lost the confidence of the churches by its broad policy, I believe, after much travel and years of observation, that it never had more of that confidence than at the present hour. At a recent Congressional Hearing, in Washington, I heard a distinguished Presbyterian Professor of Theology, Rev. Dr. Herrick Johnson, of Chicago, call the WCTU “the most powerful, the most beneficent, and the most successful organization ever formed by women.” Similar testimony abounds in all the most enlightened circles of the land.

Let us not be disconcerted, but stand bravely by that blessed trinity of movements, Prohibition, Woman’s Liberation and Labor’s uplift.

Everything is not in the Temperance Reform, but the Temperance Reform should be in everything.

There is no better motto for the “Do-Everything-Policy,” than this which we are saying by our deeds: “Make a chain, for the land is full of bloody crimes and the city of violence.”

If we can remember this simple rule, it will do much to unravel the mystery of the much controverted “Do-Everything-Policy,” viz: that every question of practical philanthropy or reform has its temperance aspect, and with that we are to deal.

Methods that were once the only ones available may become, with the passage of years, less useful because less available. …

The Temperance cause started out well nigh alone, but mighty forces have joined us in the
long march. We are now in the midst of the Waterloo battle, and in the providence of God the Temperance army will not have to fight that out all by itself. For Science has come up with its glittering contingent, political economy deploys its legions, the woman question brings an Amazonian army upon the field, and the stout ranks of labor stretch away far as the eye can reach. As in the old Waterloo against Napoleon, so now against the Napoleon of the liquor traffic, no force is adequate except the “allied forces.” . . .


[1] The WCTU adopted white ribbons as an organizational symbol because of the color’s traditional association with purity.

[2] Niccolo Paganini (1782–1840) was an Italian violin virtuoso whose use of then-unorthodox fingering and bowing techniques dramatically changed the way in which instrument was played and they types of music composed for it.

[3] Sir Joseph Cook (1860 – 1947) was a devout Methodist and leading member of the Australian Labor Party in the 1890s.