The League of Women Voters has always been a shady entity to me, stuck in a category of leagues I’ve heard about but paid little attention to—like the Junior League.
But when Google told me the League of Women Voters turns 90 years old on Valentine’s Day, I read the alert because it highlighted the First Woman’s Rights Convention and Elizabeth Cady Stanton: two of my push buttons.
The article by Henrietta Hay in The Daily Sentinel explained how 19th century women reacted to the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution by forming suffrage associations.
FYI, the 14th Amendment said only men were citizens and therefore voters; the 15th declared no citizen’s rights could be denied on account of race or previous condition of servitude, but women were left out of the formula.
This was hardly better than the state of Tennessee declaring in the mid-1800s that women could not own property because they did not have souls.
Of course, people being people, members of the National Women’s Suffrage Association could not agree on much of anything and the more conservative ones splintered off into the American Women’s Suffrage Association. They reunited later as the National American Woman Suffrage Association headed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
And that was the simple version. Read Stanton’s autobiography, Eighty Years & More, for the blow by blow.
The U.S. government finally acknowledged American women as citizens on Aug. 26, 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle.
Victorious, Carrie Chapman Catt took the nucleus of the NAWSA and turned it into the League of Women Voters, which would teach these brand new female voters about the issues.
In the beginning, as today, the League of Women Voters was an activist, grassroots, nonpartisan organization.
“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,” Hay says in The Daily Sentinel.
True to its origins, today’s League of Women Voters neither supports nor opposes candidates, but studies the pros and cons of governmental issues and occasionally makes recommendations.
If you would like to know what the League’s issues and projects are for the 21st century, go to http://www.lwv.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=About_Us.
You also can send the League a Happy 90th Birthday e-card—and even join the organization.