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Yes, Frances Willard was as gay as Oscar Wilde. But in a lady-way.

Yup. We're gonna do it. We're gonna talk about Frances Willard and gayness. Look, it's not a major part of her life, and it's definitely not the main thing she should be remembered for, but the fact that a line is being put out that she was totally straight is complete hogwash and it upsets me.




The thing is, I get when people say it's anachronistic to put the cultural concept of "gayness" onto a person from a century other than the 20th/21st. I get that. And usually agree with it. But Frances Willard is one of the gayest people in history. I have zero problem labeling her with that. The fact that she didn't have the language to describe what she was experiencing is upsetting, but she managed to have a seemingly full and satisfying life anyway, so I am happy for her.


And for people annoyed when gay people say that someone from the past was gay, here's the thing: When you're completely whitewashed from history, it is a matter of TOTAL DELIGHT when you suddenly see clues that someone was like you. There's enough debate in contemporary society as to whether or not homosexuality is "okay" that you have to internalize at least some of it. No matter how much you embrace it, there can be the niggling thought of 'I mean...IS it ok?' And seeing people you respect come out, or seeing that it's just a way some people are and have been throughout history, it matters loads. Building a history matters. So yes, we're gonna quote some Frances Willard now from her journals around age 21, mostly concerning her best friend, Mary Bannister:



"I love women so curiously--I am sorry that I do."

"They say that is it like to change my Life--that Love of mine for Mary. Somehow it seems to have got me jostled from my relations--abnormalized me. It is at the bottom,--sometimes I half suspect, of all my griefs with Charlie [her fiance for the moment]."

"Tormented with the abnormal love & longing of a woman for a woman--one never so sweet & lovable as now. Open to ridicule from this, to censure from the other side. Not very good--not very near to God."

"It is strange & sad. But I do not talk about it. I am not morose or weak. I think & I am sorry--I pray--the very best that I know how."

"I looked at Mary B. and thought what beautiful eyes she had, and how intelligent she was."

"I said to myself 'Life has disappointed you. In the man you are to marry you find every ambition gratified,—but you do not feel for him any thing beyond the calm well wishing, the gratitude and friendliness your sister would feel if he had been equally thoughtful & obliging towards her. His kiss wakes no feeling in your heart more than those of your mere acquaintances, yet you are capable of more, for a kiss—a caress—a loving word from Mary will send the blood hurrying along your veins & give you that particular sensation, so delicious, so rare, that people call a 'thrill.'"

And when Kate, the woman she was "companioned" with, made her give up another woman:

"One kiss—one clinging grasp of her kind hand & I go away from what I would give more than I can tell to keep within my sight—to shelter in my arms."

And, of course:

"There are very few whom I could love—possibly none. Naturally I love women & sometimes I think, can feel no earnest, vigorous love toward their brethren!"

I want this out there. The WCTU absolutely denies it, and so the tour of her house can't mention it. Which is bullshit. Frances Willard was gay. All of her most important relationships in life were with women. The women she traveled with and lived with and loved and cried over helped shape her into the person who became the president of the WCTU and an ardent supporter of suffrage. So it's not an important part of her life, but it is.

There needs to be a part of the internet besides one Wiki Answers page that says Frances Willard was a lesbian, and that that's totally fine and it's just unfortunate she didn't have the language to realize what she was feeling, having to instead resort to words like "abnormal." Abnormal. Potentially confused and conflicted people out there -- you are not abnormal. There have been people like you since the dawn of humanity. And Frances Willard, a 19th century social activist, was one of them.

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