In 2018 and 2019, I created a digital exhibit for the Frances Willard House Museum in Evanston, Illinois entitled Truth-Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells. The exhibit explores the public conflict between two prominent reformers: Willard, the president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and Wells, the journalist and anti-lynching activist.
In the 1890s, Wells called on Willard to account for racist comments the reformer had made about Southern black men, and for failing to use the WCTU’s large platform to work against lynching. Willard reacted defensively, and the resulting conflict made international news.
This exhibit marks the first time that the Frances Willard House Museum has grappled with this conflict and its meaning for Willard’s legacy, as well as what it can tell us about the history of racism in American women’s movements.