League of Women Voters of the United States
FoundedFebruary 14, 1920
FounderCarrie Chapman Catt
TypeNonprofit
FocusPolitical action, civic engagement
Location
Key people
Dr. Deborah Ann Turner (President)
Revenue
$8,081,144 (2019)[1]
WebsiteLWV.org

The League of Women Voters (LWV) is a nonprofit political organization in the United States.[2] Founded in 1920, its ongoing major activities include registering voters, providing voter information, and advocating for voting rights. In addition, the LWV supports a variety of progressive public policy positions, including campaign finance reform, universal health care, abortion rights, climate change action and environmental regulation, and gun control.[3][4][5][6]

The League was originally formed to help women take a larger role in public affairs after they won the right to vote. It was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920, approximately six months before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gave women the right to vote, and described as a "mighty political experiment" aimed to help newly enfranchised women exercise their responsibilities as voters. In founding the League of Women Voters, Catt sought to create a political process that was rational and issue-oriented, dominated by citizens, not politicians.[7]

As a nonpartisan organization, an important part of its role in American politics has been to register and inform voters, but it also lobbies for issues of importance to its members. Its effectiveness has been attributed to its policy of careful study and documentation of an issue before taking a position.[8]

Originally, only women could join the league; but in 1973 the charter was modified to include men. LWV operates at the local, state, and national level, with over 700 local and 50 state leagues, and one territory league in the U.S. Virgin Islands.[9]

History

Founding

League of Women Voters members in front of the White House, 1924
League of Women Voters members in front of the White House, 1924

In 1909, Emma Smith DeVoe proposed at the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in Seattle that a separate organization be created to educate women on election processes and lobby for favorable legislation on women's issues. When her proposal was ignored, DeVoe founded the National Council of Women Voters in 1911. She recruited western suffragists and organizations to join the league.[10][11]

Ten years later, prior to the 1919 Convention of the NAWSA (in St. Louis, Missouri), Carrie Chapman Catt began negotiating with DeVoe to merge her organization with a new league that would be the successor to the NAWSA. Catt was concerned that DeVoe's alignment with the more radical Alice Paul might discourage conservative women from joining the National Council of Women Voters and thus proposed the formation of a new league. As fifteen states had already ratified the 19th Amendment, the women wanted to move forward with a plan to educate women on the voting process and shepherd their participation.

A motion was made at the 1919 NAWSA convention to merge the two organizations into a successor, the National League of Women Voters. Although not all members of either organization were in favor of a merger, the merger was officially completed on January 6, 1920. For the first year the league operated as a committee of the NAWSA.[7][12][13] The formal organization of the League was drafted at the 1920 Convention held in Chicago.[14]

In her presidential address on March 24, 1919, at the above-mentioned NAWSA convention, Catt had said:

Let us raise up a League of Women Voters—the name and form of organization to be determined by the voters themselves; a League that shall be non-partisan and non-sectarian in character and that shall be consecrated to three chief aims:

Carrie Chapman Catt was named honorary chairman of the League instead of president because she insisted that it was for younger and fresher women to lead the new work.[16]

In subsequent years, due to the increasing influence of women in politics, the league has evolved a more inclusive mission, to "protect and expand voting rights and ensure everyone is represented in our democracy." [17]

1920-1930

During the 1920's, the League of Women Voters of New York sent an annual questionnaire to candidates for local office, and published the answers in the publication "Information for Voters."[18] In 1929, the questionnaire covered maintaining the 5 cent subway fare, creation of a permanent city planning board, immediate action on a sewage and waste disposal plant, unlimited building heights in certain districts, and reclassification of civil service employees to provide automatic salary increases.[19]

In early 1921, the League of Women Voters of New York reported an increase in the number of members after Governor Nathan L. Miller attached the League, calling it a "menace" to our form of government. The organization launched a state-wide campaign of education to inform "misguided individuals laboring under such misapprehensions."[20]

In 1923, a special committee of the national League of Women Voters picked twelve women as the "greatest living American women." They were Jane Addams, Cecilia Beaux, Annie Jump Cannon, Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Botsford Comstock, Minnie Maddern Fiske, Louise Homer, Julia Lathrop, Florence Rena Sabin, M. Carey Thomas, Martha Van Rensselaer, and Edith Wharton.[21]

At the 1926 convention of the national League, Belle Sherwin, the League president, emphasized education in politics as the right road toward true democracy.

Whether it is possible to develop in this country an education which will qualify citizens to be partners in government is a question to face squarely. For many, education today is either remote and limited to a brief period or is highly specialized for vocational purposes. Education for active citizenship has hardly been tried.

She went on to mention "the modest attempts of schools here and there to teach critical reading of the newspapers and other means of avoiding mob-mindedness." Prohibition and birth control were hot issues that year, but were not included in the subjects for study and legislation during the ensuing year.[22]

In 1926, The New York League together with the Women's National Republican Club established information booths in seven department stores, explaining to women how to register to vote, and installed a voting machine at League headquarters to demonstrate how to vote. The League members explained literacy tests and requirements and hours for registration. A frequent question involved the status of an American woman married to an immigrant. The League also presented a series of pre-election talks, including a talk on "National and State Legislators," "The Judiciary," and "Machinery of Elections."[23]

Also in 1926, the New York League regional director Mrs. Charles L. Tiffany emphasized the League's non-partisan nature, saying that "The League of Women Voters is taking no part in any campaign. ... If any individual members of the league wish to take part in the campaign, they will do so as individuals and not as members of the league."[24]

On October 17, 1929, Belle Sherwin, the president of the League of Women Voters, and Ruth Morgan of New York City headed a delegation to ask President Herbert Hoover to support the renewal of Federal aid to the States in maternity and infancy work.[25]

At the 1929 convention of the League of Women Voters of New York, the members voted for a New York State prohibition enforcement act. They also voted to favor old age pensions and ask the Legislature to give women the right to do jury service, to permit physicians to give contraceptive information to married persons, and to extend the benefits of workmen's compensation for all occupational diseases.[26]

1930-1940

1940-1950

Activities

The LWV sponsored the United States presidential debates in 1976, 1980 and 1984.[27][28] On October 2, 1988, the LWV's 14 trustees voted unanimously to pull out of the debates, and on October 3 they issued a press release condemning the demands of the major candidates' campaigns. LWV President Nancy Neuman said that the debate format would "perpetrate a fraud on the American voter" and that the organization did not intend to "become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."[29][30] All presidential debates since 1988 have been sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a bipartisan organization run by the two major parties.[31]

State and local leagues host candidate debates to provide candidates' positions at all levels of government.[32]

In 2012, LWV created National Voter Registration Day, a day when volunteers work to register voters and increase participation.[33]

The League sponsors voter's guides including Smart Voter and Voter's Edge, which was launched in collaboration with MapLight.[34] The League, including state and local leagues, runs VOTE411.org, a bilingual website that allows voters to input their address and get candidate and election information tailored to their location.[35]

Policy views

The League lobbies for legislation at the national, state, and local levels. Positions on national issues are determined by decisions at the most recent national convention. Members of state and local leagues determine their leagues' positions on state and local issues, consistent with the national positions.

The League was founded by suffragists fighting for the right of women to vote and has always been concerned with issues around voting and representative government. Other issue areas in which the League currently advocates are international relations, natural resources, and social policy.

Voting and representative government

In 1993, the League pushed for the adoption of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires states to offer voter registration at all driver's license agencies, at social service agencies, and through the mail.[36][37][38][39]

In 2002, the League endorsed passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which banned soft money in federal elections and made other reforms in campaign finance laws.[40][41] It was also a major proponent of the Help America Vote Act.[42][43]

In 2010, the League opposed the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which removed limits on corporate contributions to candidates.[44][45][46] It filed an amicus brief in support of the FEC.[47]

The League supports the DISCLOSE Act, which would provide for greater and faster public disclosure of campaign spending and combat the use of "dark money" in U.S. elections.[48]

The League currently opposes restrictive photo ID laws and supports campaign finance reform in the United States, including public financing of elections, restrictions on spending by candidates, and abolishing super-PACs.[49]

International relations

The League lobbied for the establishment of the United Nations, and later became one of the first groups to receive status as a nongovernmental organization with the U.N.[50] The League was active from the beginning in promoting world peace and international organizations. At the second League of Women Voters convention, in 1921, Carrie Chapman Catt spoke, and said:[51]

The people in this room tonight could put an end to war. There is no audience in the world that won't applaud him who talks of world peace. Everybody wants to and every one does nothing.

I am for a league of nations, a Republican league or any kind the Republicans are in. I believe it is the duty of every one who wants the world to disarm to compel action at Washington.

Our country is not judged by its parties; it is judged as a nation. But why don't we do something? I ask you: Is there anybody anywhere with an earnest crusading spirit who is trying to arouse America? No. We are as stolid and as inactive as if we did not face the greatest opportunity in history.

We are the appointed leaders. It isn't possible for us to see the horrors of the other side. We go on daily living in a pardise while tragic Europe tries to gather its ruins together. We have waited too long, and we will get another war by waiting.

Let us make a resolution tonight; let us consecrate ourselves to put war out of this world. It is necessary that we rise out of narrow partisanship, that we act as women."

Natural resources

The League supported the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Kyoto Protocol.[52] The League opposes the proposed Keystone Pipeline project.[53] In January 2013, the League of Women Voters in Hawaii urged President Obama to take action on climate change under the authority given him by the Clean Air Act of 1963.[54]

Social policy

The League opposes school vouchers.[55] In 1999, the League challenged a Florida law that allowed students to use school vouchers to attend other schools. [56]

The League supports universal health care and endorses both Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act.[57][58]

The League supports the abolition of the death penalty.[59]

Governance

National

A national board of directors consisting of four officers, eight elected directors, and not more than eight board-appointed directors, most of whom reside in the Metro Washington D.C. area, govern the League subject to the Bylaws of the League of Women Voters of the United States. The national board is elected at the national convention and sets position policy.[60]

Local leagues

Local Leagues and state Leagues are organized in order to promote the purposes of the League and to take action on local and state governmental matters. These Leagues (chapters) have their own directors and officers. The national board may withdraw recognition from any state or local League for failure to fulfill recognition requirements.[60]

The League of Women Voters has state and local leagues in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Hong Kong.

Founder Carrie Chapman Catt


See also

General

Notable members

Wikipedia Articles by State

State Women's suffrage in Timeline for Associations
Alabama Women's suffrage in Alabama Timeline of women's suffrage in Alabama
Alaska Women's suffrage in Alaska Timeline of women's suffrage in Alaska
Arizona Women's suffrage in Arizona Timeline of women's suffrage in Arizona
Arkansas Women's suffrage in Arkansas Timeline of women's suffrage in Arkansas
California Women's suffrage in California Timeline of women's suffrage in California California Equal Suffrage Association
Colorado Women's suffrage in Colorado Timeline of women's suffrage in Colorado
Connecticut Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association
Delaware Women's suffrage in Delaware Timeline of women's suffrage in Delaware
Florida Women's suffrage in Florida Timeline of women's suffrage in Florida League of Women Voters of Florida
Georgia Women's suffrage in Georgia (U.S. state) Timeline of women's suffrage in Georgia (U.S. state) Georgia Woman Suffrage Association
Hawaii Women's suffrage in Hawaii Timeline of women's suffrage in Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois Women's suffrage in Illinois Timeline of women's suffrage in Illinois League of Women Voters of Naperville
Indiana
Iowa Women's suffrage in Iowa Timeline of women's suffrage in Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky Kentucky Equal Rights Association
Louisiana
Maine Women's suffrage in Maine Timeline of women's suffrage in Maine
Maryland Maryland Woman Suffrage Association
Massachusetts Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association
Michigan
Minnesota Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association
Mississippi
Missouri Women's suffrage in Missouri Timeline of women's suffrage in Missouri Missouri League of Women Voters
Montana Women's suffrage in Montana Timeline of women's suffrage in Montana
Nebraska
Nevada Women's suffrage in Nevada Timeline of women's suffrage in Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey Women's suffrage in New Jersey Timeline of women's suffrage in New Jersey
New Mexico Women's suffrage in New Mexico Timeline of women's suffrage in New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota Women's suffrage in North Dakota Timeline of women's suffrage in North Dakota
Ohio Women's suffrage in Ohio Timeline of women's suffrage in Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania Women's suffrage in Pennsylvania Timeline of women's suffrage in Pennsylvania
Rhode Island Women's suffrage in Rhode Island Timeline of women's suffrage in Rhode Island
South Carolina Women's suffrage in South Carolina South Carolina Equal Rights Association
South Dakota Women's suffrage in South Dakota Timeline of women's suffrage in South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas Women's suffrage in Texas Timeline of women's suffrage in Texas Texas Equal Suffrage Association
Texas Equal Rights Association
Utah Women's suffrage in Utah Timeline of women's suffrage in Utah
Vermont
Virginia Women's suffrage in Virginia Timeline of women's suffrage in Virginia Equal Suffrage League of Virginia
Washington
West Virginia West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association
Wisconsin Women's suffrage in Wisconsin Timeline of women's suffrage in Wisconsin
Wyoming Women's suffrage in Wyoming

Images

  • Headquarters building in Washington, DC, circa 1920s
    Headquarters building in Washington, DC, circa 1920s
  • Board of Directors, 1920
    Board of Directors, 1920
  • Minnesota delegation at Washington, DC headquarters, 1923
    Minnesota delegation at Washington, DC headquarters, 1923
  • 1924
    1924
  • League of Women Voters of Mississippi, 2017
    League of Women Voters of Mississippi, 2017
  • California Free the Vote campaign, 2019
    California Free the Vote campaign, 2019

References

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Publications

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