League of Women Voters still going strong after 90 years
When I was born, my mother could not vote, own property or run for office. Today I can do all three, although I think I will skip seeking office.
It has been a long, hard fight. In spite of Abigail Adams’ plea to her husband, John, at the Constitutional Convention: “Remember the ladies,” women’s suffrage did not come with the Constitution. It took almost 150 years for the ladies to be remembered legally.
During those years, millions of women wrote and spoke and organized and suffered physical abuse and insults and jail and even death for the cause they believed in.
The first women’s rights convention in the United States was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Participants signed a “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” that outlined the main issues and goals for the emerging women’s movement.
In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. It extended to all citizens the protections of the Constitution against unjust state laws. But wait a minute! This amendment was the first to define “citizens” and “voters” to be “male.”
This, of course, brought the activities of the woman suffrage workers to a slow boil. No, make it a full boil. If that was not enough, the 15th Amendment was close to passage.
The 15th Amendment said that no citizen’s rights could be denied on account of race or previous condition of servitude. You notice what is missing — women.
The National Woman Suffrage Association was formed in 1869 as a protest against the failure to include women in the 15th Amendment. But the women’s rights movement split into two factions as a result of disagreements over the 14th and soon-to-be-passed 15th Amendments. The American Suffrage Women Association was the conservative branch. Nothing changes much, does it?
The factions reunited later as the National American Woman Suffrage Association under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
At long last, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified and women finally were considered citizens.
Its victory accomplished, NAWSA ceased to exist, but that organization became the nucleus of the League of Women Voters, which is celebrating its 90th birthday this Sunday, Valentine’s Day.
The League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920 during the convention of the NAWSA.
The convention was held just six months before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle — from Seneca Falls to Washington.
The League began as a “mighty political experiment,” designed to help women carry out their new responsibilities as voters. It encouraged them to use their new power to participate in shaping public policy. From the beginning, the League was an activist, grassroots organization.
It was then, and is now, a nonpartisan organization. League founders believed that maintaining a nonpartisan stance would protect the fledgling organization from becoming mired in party politics. League members were not encouraged to be political themselves, but by educating citizens, and lobbying for, government and social reform legislation they could help protect our system of government.
This holds true today. The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates. But on governmental issues they study pros and cons and occasionally make recommendations.
Now, 90 years after those activist women founded the League, it is still going strong, following the principles set up by the founders.
I am a member of the League and have been for many years. I have long since forgotten how many.
Back in the second women’s movement in the 1960s and ‘70s, I was too involved in partisan politics to think I wanted to join an organization that avoided such activity. I couldn’t believe that they didn’t even endorse candidates. But I discovered that most of the activist women I was working with belonged to the League and I started to get interested. They studied issues and made their findings available to the public. They held candidate forums in which every candidate had a voice. So I joined up.
The League has a long, rich history that continues with each passing year. It is poised now to provide service to voters in the 21st Century just as it did in the 20th.
Henrietta can be reached by e-mail at