Cover for GIFFORD: Writing Out My Heart: Selections from the Journal of Frances E. Willard, 1855-96. Click for larger image

Writing Out My Heart

Selections from the Journal of Frances E. Willard, 1855-96

The journal of Frances E. Willard—nineteenth-century America's most renowned and influential woman—had been hidden away in a cupboard at the National WCTU headquarters, and its importance eluded Willard's biographers. Writing Out My Heart publishes for the first time substantial portions of the forty-nine volumes rediscovered in 1982. They open a window on the remarkable inner life of this great public figure and cast her in a new light. No other female political leader of the period left a private record like this.

Best known for her powerful leadership of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), at that time the nation's largest organized body of women, Willard was a world-class reform leader and feminist. How she achieved this stature has been documented. This compelling journal reveals why.

Written during her teens, twenties, and fifties, the journal documents the creation of Frances Willard's self. At the same time, it often reads like a good novel. It stands as one of the most explicit and painful records in the nineteenth century of one woman's coming to terms with her love for women in a heterosexual world.

Other sections reveal what impelled Willard to reform—the nature and depth of the religious dimension of her life—a dimension not yet adequately explored by any biographer. Here we see her growing commitment to the "cause of woman."

The volumes written in her late middle age give insight into the years when, world famous, she was part of the transatlantic network of reform, battling ill health, dealing with controversy in the WCTU, and grieving for her mother, a lifelong figure of emotional support. This finale concludes one of the most fascinating of the journal's themes: the nineteenth-century confrontation with sickness and death.

Drawn from one of the richest sources in documentary history, knowledgeably introduced and annotated, Writing Out My Heart is a biographical goldmine, rich in the themes and institutions central to women's lives in nineteenth-century America.

Carolyn De Swarte Gifford, an associate editor of the Historical Encyclopedia of Chicago Women, has published extensively on the history of American women.

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