Chicago , Mar 28 1878
My own dear Friend,
He has vanished to the real life, out of sight but tenderly present in spirit and in memory- my only and dearly beloved brother Oliver.9
He was so fortunate as to be suddenly called-with a little over two days illness and that not painful or dimming to his reason. So hard had he worked and so delicately was he made that the machine just stopped- and he lay there with so sweet a smile upon his face that we could but smile with him. I never knew a life go out and leave such radiance on the hills of hope. He and his wife10
were alone up to the last few minutes- indeed till he became unconscious and they talked for hours together of God and immortality. He was not pained by the surprise of death. Infinitely touching were the utterances of those hours, the last messages to each, the weary voice repeating, “Come unto me and I will give you rest!” His death was very like our Mary’s.11
With tears he repeated the old hymn,
“Ten thousand times thy mercies known,
Ten thousand times thy mercies grieve.”
Again and again he said “ Let not you hearts be troubled, ye believe in God believe also in me.” “Christ’s presence does not-electrify- but I want my friends to know it does sustain. And so he went without a struggle or a groan. Mother is calm and content at the blessed victory- his dear wife who loved him so devotedly goes on her way with the face of one who sees a heavenly vision.
We are exceedingly busy- as Oliver’s affairs were in such shape as to require immediate, faithful and intelligent attention. My sister and I are all the time in the city looking them over.
With tender affection,
9 Oliver Willard: Oliver was Frances’ older brother. The two were very close to one another and Frances had many lively stories to tell of their relationship. Frances once said this about the brother and sister relationship, “A boy whose sister knows everything she does will be far more modest, genial, and pleasant to have about and it will also be an improvement to the sister as well.” (30) Anna Gordon stated this following Frances quotation, she wrote, “I believe she regarded this commerce between the lands of brother and sister, of man and woman; the association, not of bodily presence only, such as take pace around every breakfast table, but a true association of minds…” (31) Oliver was born in 1834 and he attended Beloit College and graduated in 1859. Oliver met much success as a minister after college. (Anna Gordon, The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard, Chicago: Woman’s Christian Temperance Publishing Association). Frances wrote, “You will remember that at the age of 27 he was a presiding elder in Colorado, having gone there by invitation of Governor Evans. He was instrumental in building in Denver what was then a remarkably fine church, its organ and stained glass windows being freighted across the plains. He founded there, also, a seminary for young men and women which was the nucleus of the present Denver University.”(75) For medical reasons Oliver left the ministry and began working as an editor in Chicago and took over the “Evening Post” newspaper. Oliver married Frances’ friend, Mary Bannister and the couple went on to have 4 children. Sadly, Oliver passed away unexpectedly in March 1878. His friends and family were devastated by the loss. In the letter from March 28, 1878, Frances expresses her grief and she even included part of those words in her book, A Great Mother. Parts of this letter appear on page 82 in the chapter about her brother. Frances E. Willard, A Great Mother, Chicago: Woman’s Temperance Publishing Association, 1894.
10 Mary Bannister Willard: Mary was a close friend to both Frances and her younger sister, Mary. Mary Willard was born in Fairfield, NY in 1841. She attended North Western Female College with Mary Willard (Frances’ sister) and was an Evanston neighbor. She graduated in 1860 and married Oliver, Frances’ brother in 1862. The couple had four children. When Oliver passed away in 1878, both she and Frances took over publishing and editing the Post, a paper that Oliver had working with right before his death. Financial difficulties forced the ladies to sell the paper and Mary took over Our Union, later known as the Union Signal. Though remaining close to Frances, Mary moved to Europe and opened the American Home School for Girls in Berlin, Germany. After some years abroad, her failing health forced her trip back to the United States where she passed away at age 71. Carolyn De Swarte Gifford, ed. Selections from the Journal of Frances E. Willard, 1855-1896, Writing Out My Heart, Series: Women in American History, eds. Mari Jo Buhle, Nancy A. Hewitt, and Anne Frior Scott, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995, page 19 note 5.
11 Mary Elizabeth Willard: Mary Elizabeth Willard was Frances’ younger sister. She was born in Oberlin, Ohio. She attended school with Frances and too graduated from North Western Female College. Unfortunately she died at age 19 in June of 1862. Her death was devastating to her family. “Frances and Mary had always been close, a closeness fostered by their isolated childhood on the Wisconsin frontier, but a closeness that also reflected the duality of their personalities: Mary, the beautiful, feminine, submissive, always loving daughter; France s the strong, independent, sharp witted rebel. Frances both loved and envied Mary. She praised how ‘sweet and fair and fresh’ Mary looked, but added that ‘I felt hurt when I looked at her.’ As a young girl Mary was Frances’s sweet, soft side, a side that Frances developed in her twenties after Mary’s death,” (38) Ruth Bordin, Frances Willard: A Biography, Chapel Hill: The University of Chapel Hill, 1986. Frances even went on to write a loving tribute to her sister, in Nineteen Beautiful Years: Sketches of a Girl’s Life.