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ANOTHER ANGLE: the occasional musings of a Kentucky pastor


By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh
joey n.
Last week, at the close of Women's History Month, I wrote of two of the women who are memorialized at the U. S. Capitol in Statuary Hall, Esther Hobart Morris (Wyoming) and Dr. Florence Rena Sabin (Colorado).

Over the years the 50 states have designated 101 people for remembrance with their statues. (The extra statue is from Kansas, which originally named as one of its choices the pioneer lawyer and governor George Washington Glick. In 2003 Kansas decided to replace the Glick statue with one portraying native son Dwight Eisenhower. Glick, like Elvis, has left the building; his marble likeness is back in Topeka.)

Of the scant few women so honored by their states, three are in Statuary Hall, and the third is Frances E. Willard (1839-1898). Willard, from Illinois, was the first woman to be honored there with a statue. Her marble likeness, 7' 1" tall, was placed in 1905.

Willard was one of the most prominent and influential women of her age

An educator and reformer, Willard was one of the most prominent and influential American women of her age. A loyal Methodist, Willard worked within the church to ensure rights of full participation to laywomen in the northern branch of the denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church. She also was an early voice in favor of the ordination of women.

In 1889 she wrote Woman in the Pulpit, a fastidious examination of the biblical texts quoted by opponents of women ministers, as well as a practical description of the successful careers of women who had served as evangelists and lay preachers in the 1800's . That book, with its meticulous and responsible scriptural analysis, has served as a valuable resource ever since. It was reprinted in the late 20th century because it remains in demand.

The first dean of women at Northwestern University, a Methodist institution in Evanston, Illinois, she was an advocate for women who sought to advance their education in a day when many colleges still refused admission to women. She was an ardent suffragist, traveling 30,000 miles a year on speaking tours in the 1870's as she spoke on behalf of votes for women.

She defended the legal right . . . against spousal abuse

She defended the legal right to personal safety against spousal abuse, as well as to property rights for married women, in an age when those guarantees largely were denied. Horrified that men had the unencumbered right to take their paychecks to the neighborhood tavern and spend them in an evening, she worked to assure that men would finally be obligated legally to support their children. Before Frances Willard came along, few states had laws pertaining to child neglect.

Becoming involved in temperance issues because of her concern for the welfare of the wives and children of heavy drinkers, she was elected president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1879. This was a position she held until her death. In 1883 she was founder of the international version of that same movement.

Willard died before the full fruition of her most ardent hopes, embodying the description in Hebrews 11 of the faithful people who were, "living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and hailed them from afar." At her death the whole nation mourned, and newspaper obituaries referred to her as the most beloved woman in the country.

Good friend John Greenleaf Whittier summed up her life

Her good friend, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who died before her, had summed up her life interests as he had written of her:

She knew the power of banded ill,

But felt that LOVE was stronger still.

And organized for doing good,

The world's united womanhood.

Her marble visage in Statuary Hall will last a good long while, but Frances Willard's hopeful and progressive vision likely will last still longer.
Joey N. Welsh is the pen name of former pastor in a nearby South Central Kentucky Community.

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This story was posted on 2006-04-02 09:27:29
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