Truth-Telling: Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells


The story of the conflict between Frances Willard and Ida B. Wells begins in 1890, when Willard gave a newspaper interview about her views on Southern politics in which she made several racist comments. A few years later, in 1894, Wells republished the interview, and criticized Willard for her reluctance to condemn lynching. Their clash attracted media coverage from the U.S. and Great Britain, and continued for over a year.

Throughout the conflict, Willard focused on defending herself from what she felt were unfair accusations of racism. Wells, on the other hand, kept the focus on the larger issue: the brutal murders of black men, women, and children in the South, and the failure of both the US government and white reformers to stop them. Wells bet, successfully, that pressuring white liberal reformers like Frances Willard was the surest path to action against lynching. By the time the conflict between the two women had mostly died down, Willard had spoken out against lynching and the WCTU had passed resolutions condemning it. However, she never apologized to Wells for her comments in 1890, and she continued to defend her own character and actions.

Explore the timeline above to learn more about the conflict. Each page features at least one document that is crucial to understanding what happened and why it matters. You will also find brief in-line annotations that help fill in the gaps in the story.

The pages linked to the timeline also appear in the list below.

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