Truth Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells - new documentary website

Joan Johnson's picture
Online Digital Resources
Illinois, United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, American History / Studies, Black History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies

Truth Telling: A Community History Project and Digital Exhibit is Launched by the Frances Willard House Museum and Archives

In the 1890s, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union President Frances Willard and journalist and activist Ida B. Wells fought a war of words in the international press over Willard’s lack of public support for Wells’ anti-lynching campaign. At the time, Willard was a world famous social reformer but while working to expand the WCTU, especially in the South, she used language that was demeaning and incendiary. Wells called Willard’s moral leadership into question and demanded that Willard and the WCTU join her anti-lynching campaign. Under Willard’s leadership, the WCTU eventually passed resolutions opposing lynching, but Willard’s language and actions complicate her legacy.

The Frances Willard House Museum and Archives recently launched Truth Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells, a community history project that explores this conflict. The project includes a digital exhibit of original archival sources, now available at

The website features a selection of primary documents organized in a "timeline" format, so visitors can follow the conflict as it developed. Each document is annotated to provide background information and make dense nineteenth-century prose easier to understand. The website also features short contextual essays on topics like woman suffrage and Reconstruction; interpretive essays from scholars and commentators who bring fresh insights into the conflict; and a bibliography to guide further reading and research.

The exhibit is appropriate for use in courses, as students can explore the primary sources and background material in order to analyze this exchange Willard and Wells and its significance in understanding the suffrage movement, the long legacy of racial conflict within the women’s movement, transatlantic reform movements, the Lost Cause, and many other topics.


More information can be found at or via email at or phone at 847-328-7500.

Contact Info: 

Joan Marie Johnson, Northwestern University or Lori Osborne, Frances Willard House