Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Frankly Speaking

“Sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Isn’t that brilliant? These words were written by Frances E. Willard (1839–1898), a remarkable social reformer and well worth a slice of your precious attention. She was one of the most influential women of her day. I wrote about her and 19 other remarkable dames who made a difference in my book Rabble Rousers (Dutton Children's Books, 2003). Truly, Ms. Willard was one of the most powerful and charismatic leaders of the19th century. She presided over the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the WCTU – some 150,000 members strong. Their relentless campaigning led to the 18th Amendment to the U.S.Constitution, which led to “Prohibition.” During this dramatic period, (1919-1933), liquor – making
it, selling, shipping, or drinking it – was flat against the law of the land. A pretty disastrous and immoderate social experiment, all in all, but what about this temperance idea? Xenophon, a long-gone Greek historian, defined it as “Moderation in all things helpful, total abstinence from all things harmful.” This was Benjamin Franklin’s take on it: “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.” Allow me to paraphrase: Eat not to fatness; drink responsibly. Xenophon and Ben sound like a pair of sensible guys, but this, after all, is Women’s History Month, so I’ll stick with
Frances, known as Frank to her friends. She had a lot more on her mind than teetotaling.
Frances Willard about worked herself to exhaustion, trying to make the world better. Get little kids out of factories and into school! People, clean up your habits, your cities and your prisons! Give women the right to vote! By 1894, Ms. Willard’s doctors were advising their intemperate patient to get outside; take up some “congenial exercise.” Sowing some daily practice on her shiny new bicycle, known as “Gladys” to her rider, Frances reaped a healthy habit. About the whole process she wrote a delightful essay, which closed with these words: “Go thou and do likewise!”
A link to Ms. Willard’s essay on her conquest of the bike:

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