Digital Journals


Willard kept journals continuously from the age of 16 to 31, and then from age 54 to 57—50 volumes in all. The original journals are fragile, and Willard’s handwriting is very difficult to decipher. This online resource provides access to Willard’s complete, transcribed journals for the first time. The fully searchable transcription makes Willard’s journal easily accessible to scholars of women’s history, rhetoric, education, and the American progressive era. And this easily legible online resource can be used by a new audience of History Day students, undergrads, and members of the general public.

About The Digital Journals Project

The project consisted of digitizing approximately 2400 8-1/2 x 11 word-processed pages, comprising the complete transcription of American social reformer Frances Willard’s 50-volume, handwritten journals dating from 1855-1896. The Frances Willard Historical Association (FWHA) in Evanston, IL, holds the original journals and the transcriptions, but these are currently available only to on-site visitors during the Frances Willard Memorial Library & Archives’ limited open hours. The digitized transcriptions, freely full-text searchable on the FWHA web site, now provide unprecedented access to Willard’s remarkable journals by scholars of women’s history, education, social reform, rhetoric, and the American progressive era, as well as to younger researchers learning to use primary sources.

Because Willard’s journals were unavailable to earlier scholars of Willard and the WCTU, they provide a uniquely untapped resource for current researchers. And the digitized journals add to the substantial body of Willard and WCTU primary-source material—books, web sites, microfilm—that is already available through other institutions either online or through Inter-Library Loan.

Using the Digital Journals

Organization of the site:

  • The fifty volumes have been divided into four sections by time period.
    • Early Life (1855-1857)
    • Evanston (1859-1868)
    • Travel Journals (1868-1870)
    • WCTU and Later Life (1875-1896)
  • Each of the four sections starts with a very brief overview of Willard’s life during the time period covered. [Note: Summaries of each journal volume will be added later]

Browse and search functions:

There are currently two ways to search the journals

  • Browse by journal:  click on a journal with that time period; browse or read page by page
  • Searching all journals:  type in a word or name to search the full text af all the journals at once.  Results will display in a list; click to access each result (note:  search terms are not highlighted in the text)
  • Note:  Subject search capability will be added later

Important notes about this resource:

This resource provides access to the typed transcriptions of the journal, not to the original journal itself. The transcriber made every effort to decipher Willard’s handwriting, including underlinings and other emphases, but even the best transcription loses some of the flavor of the original due to formatting differences, damage to the original resulting in illegible or missing sections, etc Notes made by the transcriber about damaged text, questionable or indecipherable words, later interpolations by Willard, etc., are indicated in [brackets].  For more information about the transcription and the transcriber’s editorial method, see Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford, Writing out My Heart (full citation below), pp xxiii-xxvii.

Furthermore, in order to digitize the typed transcription, each page was scanned as a PDF; the scanned pages were run through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program and then proofread against the typed transcription—not against the original journal. Occasional errors in the OCR may have escaped the notice of proofreaders and will be corrected on an ongoing basis.

Suggested Citation format:

Footnote: [Date, journal #, page,] Frances E. Willard Journal Transcription (transcribed by Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford); online resource at accessed  [date])

Bibliography: Willard, Frances E., Journal Transcriptions (transcribed by Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford); online resource at, accessed [date]

Gifford, Carolyn DeSwarte, Writing Out My Heart: Selections from the Journals of Frances E. Willard (University of Illinois Press, 1995). Available in libraries. Extensive introduction, headnotes, and annotation enhance understanding of the excerpted passages and provide context for the entire journal.

Temperance and prohibition papers, a joint microfilm publication of the Ohio Historical Society, the Michigan Historical Collections, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, sponsored by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Columbus: Microfilmed by the Ohio Historical Society,1977. Series III (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Records, including Willard’s Papers) and Series XXI (Union Signal newspaper). Available through Inter-Library Loan from research libraries across the US.

SEE ALSO: Guide to the Microfilm Edition of Temperance and Prohibition Papers, edited by Randall C. Jimerson, Francis X. Blouin, Charles A. Isetts ; [joint project of] Michigan Historical Collections, The Ohio Historical Society, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, published by University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1977.

Digitized speeches and books by Willard Through the Internet Archive and/or GoogleBooks, the Library of Congress, and Northern Illinois University’s Illinois During the Gilded Age digitization project