Today we toured the F.E.W. distillery in Evanston. Though the name refers to crafting small batches of whiskey, rye, and gin, the name is also the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard, president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union from 1879-1898, and who lived in Evanston. Her energy and philosophy was instrumental in the passage of both the 18th (Prohibition 1919) and the 19th (Women’s suffrage 1920) amendments. She was also a progressive calling for unions for workers, protections against child abuse, the eight hour work day, relief for the poor, national transportation, federal aid to education, municipal sanitation and boards of health, anti-rape legislation, even free school lunches. She coined the phrase, “Do everything” to encourage followers to make change, leaving no action untried. I’m not sure how she would have responded to these bottles of alcohol named in her honor. She probably would have appreciated the spirit, but not the spirits.(By the way, the city of Evanston has remained dry up until 1972 with strict regulation until the 90s.)
The F.E.W. distillery is small but the stories on the tour were large, filled with the good humor, wry wit, and expertise of F.E.W.’s Welsh distiller. (I never knew that gin was made from the left over mash from the rye and the bourbon and the whiskey distilling processes. I was also surprised that the first stage of making bourbon or whiskey is literally to make beer which then becomes further distilled.)
Frankly, I raise a glass to Frances Elizabeth Willard, whose agenda for social reform was far-sighted and inclusive. Though her understanding of the role of alcohol may have been skewed in a 19th century way, it should not diminish her influence and the role she played in social reform. Her ideas of social justice still deserve a toast and a reminder to all of us to “do everything” to make this world a better place. Including a sip or two of F.E.W. spirits.