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Julius White

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Frances Willard House in Evanston, Illinois.]

Frances E. Willard House, Evanston, Built 1865.

 p142  "Rest Cottage"

Not far from the Evanston campus of Northwestern University there stands a quaint old cottage, with scrollwork trim and board-and‑batten siding. Although the cottage is of local interest because of its association with the university, it has wider renown as the home of an American woman who attracted international attention during the last decades of the nineteenth century. She was Frances E. Willard, temperance crusader, feminist, writer, orator, and a leader of numerous reform movements.

In 1865, the year that saw the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, Frances Willard's father built the board-and‑batten cottage that has become one of Evanston's principal sights. At that time Miss Willard was twenty-six years old. She was already familiar with Evanston, having been graduated, six years earlier, from North Western Female College, which afterwards was absorbed by Northwestern University. In addition to her father and mother, Miss Willard shared the newly-built Evanston cottage with her brother.

At the time her family dwelling was built, however, Miss Willard was unknown to fame, although only the year before she had published her first book, Nineteen Beautiful Years. This told of the life of her younger sister, Mary, who had died earlier and to whom Miss Willard had been devoted.

The two had come to Evanston in 1858 to attend North Western Female College. Some time afterwards they had persuaded their father and mother, sturdy and devout Vermonters who had taken up life on a farm in Wisconsin, to join them and settle in Evanston.

After receiving her diploma from North Western Female College, Miss Willard continued her studies and became a teacher in a country school near Evanston. Afterwards, she taught elsewhere and then went abroad, where she attended the University of Paris and traveled on the Continent.

Meanwhile, she began writing for weekly newspapers and magazines. Upon her return to the United States she joined the temperance crusade of 1874 and this marked the beginning of her career as a reform crusader.

During the remainder of her eventful and active life, the Willard family dwelling, which stands at 1728 Chicago Avenue, was her home. She called it "Rest Cottage" and thus it is known today, although her father, after he built it "on some new lots reclaimed from the swamp,"  p143 called it "Rose Cottage" because of the rose bushes planted around it by the family.

Also planted here, in the yard at the rear, and by Miss Willard herself, were two chestnut trees. These are now full grown and shade the cottage in summer.

After serving as president of the Evanston College for Ladies in the early 1870's, Miss Willard was named first dean of the Woman's College of Northwestern University when that institution became coeducational. Later, she founded the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union, said to be the first international organization of women.

Work in this organization took her to all parts of the United States and Europe. As a temperance crusader she won the approval and friendship of a leading Englishwoman, Lady Henry Somerset, and even Queen Victoria is said to have shown an interest in the work of Frances Willard.

The international scope of Miss Willard's career, the brilliance and versatility of her mind, the honors bestowed on her, are all vividly illustrated by the Willard relics, mementos, and souvenirs now on display in Rest Cottage.

The cottage and its furnishings remain as they were before Miss Willard's death on February 18, 1898. Owned and maintained as a shrine by the W. C. T. U., the national headquarters of which occupy a modern two‑story building at the rear of the dwelling, Rest Cottage attracted  p144 visitors from all parts of the United States and Europe during the one hundredth anniversary, in 1939, of Miss Willard's birth.

Of greatest interest among visitors to Rest Cottage is the room on the southwest corner of the second floor that Miss Willard called the den. A combined workshop, study, and library, it was here she did her writing and planned the activities that made her one of America's great women.

Her personally-annotated books, favorite Bible, writing materials, furniture, pictures, gifts, and many of her other cherished belongings are all in the den, just as they were when Miss Willard was at the height of her career. This room is warmed by a brick fireplace on which is inscribed Miss Willard's favorite motto: "Let Something Good Be Said."

This room contains the flat-topped oak desk where she wrote her famous "Polyglot Petition." It was a temperance petition addressed to the governments of the world and signed by more than seven million persons in fifty dialects. The sheets of the petition were mounted on rolls by Mrs. Rebecca C. Shuman of Evanston, and these rolls, if placed end to end, would extend five miles. This petition is now one of the prized exhibits in Rest Cottage.

Other exhibits in the den are Miss Willard's favorite rocker, in which she sat while writing her autobiography, Glimpses of Fifty Years, and while writing a book about Evanston called A Classic Town; her "Old Faithful" traveling bag; a tall grandfather's clock made by an ancestor, Simon Willard, famous Colonial clockmaker; and a large, handsomely-bound volume containing the originals of letters sent to her by many famous persons on the occasion of her visit to England in 1893.

In rooms on the main floor of the little cottage, rooms furnished in a manner typical of the 1880's and '90's, are several hundred other exhibits. The custodian of the cottage will show you Miss Willard's parlor organ, en embroidered "sampler" she made at the age of fourteen, a bicycle she learned to ride when she was fifty-three, a music box which plays "Home, Sweet Home" and other songs favored by Miss Willard, chinaware, glassware, and an old-fashioned English tea basket.

In a parlor on the north side of the cottage Miss Willard's longtime secretary and friend, Anna Gordon, maintained an office. This room is now the Anna Gordon memorial room. Miss Gordon, who in 1898 wrote The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard, continued to live in the cottage after Miss Willard's death, remaining here until her own death in 1931.

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Page updated: 1 Dec 12