Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Madeline Frances Wills, 1857-1940
By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University
Madeline Frances Wills was born in Washington, PA, June 26, 1857, the daughter of John A. and Charlotte Wills. Her father was an attorney and her mother an energetic supporter of woman suffrage. In 1884 the family moved to Los Angeles. Her father died in Los Angeles in 1891 and Madeline, single and 42 in 1900, resided with her 75-year-old widowed mother in a household that included four live-in servants. Her mother hosted Susan B. Anthony when she spoke in Los Angeles in the unsuccessful campaign for woman suffrage in 1896 and again on a later speaking tour in 1905. In July 1905, on the eve of Anthony's visit to Los Angeles, a photo appeared of Frances Wills in a collage under the headline, "Noted Women Workers in Behalf of Universal Suffrage."
Charlotte Wills passed away in October 1908 and the 1910 census recorded Madeline in Los Angeles, the 50-year-old head of a household that included two servants. In January 1911 a newspaper account of a women's meeting described her as a "well-known suffragist" and she served as recording secretary for the founding meeting of a "Council of Women." In March 1911 she hosted British suffragist, Sylvia Pankhurst, at a suffrage tea and two months later she was sailing to Christiana, Sweden, where she attended an international woman suffrage meeting. In August 1914 she was noted in the Los Angeles Evening Express as an officer of a suffrage association.
Wills continued to reside in Los Angeles, listed there in the 1920 and 1930 federal censuses. In 1930 she was 71 years old and lived in a home valued at $20,000 with a servant, two lodgers, and a nephew. She passed away in Los Angeles at 82 in August 1940.
Federal manuscript censuses, Washington, PA, 1870 and 1880; Los Angeles, CA, 1900-1930. Accessed online via Ancestry Library Edition.
Ann D., Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. VI, An Awful Hush, 1895-1906 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013), pp. 559-561.
"Noted Women Workers in Behalf of Universal Suffrage." Los Angeles Evening Express, 22 July 1905, p. 2.
"Club Women Imposed Upon," Los Angeles Times, 19 January 1911, p. 17.
"Women's Work, Women's Clubs," Los Angeles Times, 9 March 1911, p. 23.
"To Sweden for Congress," San Bernardino County Sun, 21 May 1911, p. 10.
Untitled, Los Angeles Evening Express, 12 August 1914, p. 4.