2 mins read
A 100-year birthday deserves a big celebration, and the League of Women Voters turns 100 this year.
It was born in Chicago on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1920, at the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Achieving women’s suffrage was just over the horizon, clearly in sight. It would come to pass officially in August of that same year.
The struggle had started long before, however, seventy-two long years before, at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The men and women there in 1848 signed a manifesto mirroring the language of the Declaration of Independence and listing the grievances and limitations stemming from “this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country.”
By 1920, NAWSA counted over two million members, and the movement’s leaders, among them Carrie Chapman Catt, had begun to imagine a new mission. New voters would quickly learn the mechanics of the ballot box, but they should also understand the big picture. How does government work? How are laws made and enforced? How can people who want legislation reflecting their interests and values organize themselves toward that end? The League of Women Voters was Catt’s answer. It would concentrate on voter education, equipping citizens with the knowledge to participate actively in politics.
From the beginning the League chose to occupy nonpartisan ground. For one thing, leaders had spent decades trying to get suffrage included in the parties’ platforms, a strategy that had come to nothing. More than being frustrated with political parties, however, they perceived advantages to nonpartisanship, imagining education and advocacy that would be reliably fair and balanced. Nonpartisan foundations would open public spaces, such as candidate forums and voter guides, to benefit all voters.
In 2020, look for celebrations of the Centennial of women’s suffrage in schools, libraries and other organizations, but the League of Women Voters has reason to celebrate too. The national leadership designated February 14th as a Day of Action, encouraging local chapters to define the birthday in their own ways.
Our local League has extensive experience registering students, garnering around 300 registrations at high schools throughout the county in the spring of 2019, for example. Building on that experience, volunteers recently reached out to other sectors of our community. They talked with neighbors who are homeless or recovering from addiction, those who live with a mental illness or disability, women taking shelter from domestic abuse, and others.
Our local “Day” of Action extended over three days, in fact, and five locations. The nonprofit partners in this effort were the Main Place, New Beginnings (the Woodlands), Newark Homeless Outreach, and Vertical 196 (Licking County Jail Ministries). On Feb. 14 at the Licking County Library in Newark, we welcomed anyone to update their voter registration, register to vote for the first time, or talk to someone about the logistics of voting and why it matters.
Happy birthday to the League of Women Voters.
Rita Kipp is the President of the League of Women Voters of Licking County.