Making Democracy Work

History of the League

The League of Women Voters started after women got the right to vote.

History of the National League

In her address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) 50th convention in St. Louis, Missouri, President Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the creation of a "league of women voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation."  Women Voters was formed within the NAWSA, composed of the organizations in the states where suffrage had already been attained.

The next year, on February 14, 1920 - six months before the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified - the League was formally organized in Chicago as the national League of Women Voters. Catt described the purpose of the new organization:

    "The League of Women Voters is not to dissolve any present organization but to unite all existing organizations of women who believe in its principles.  It is not to lure women from partisanship but to combine them in an effort for legislation which will protect coming movements, which we cannot even foretell, from suffering the untoward conditions which have hindered for so long the coming of equal suffrage.  Are the women of the United States big enough to see their opportunity?"

Maud Wood Park became the first national president of the League and thus the first League leader to rise to the challenge. She had steered the women's suffrage amendment through Congress in the last two years before ratification and liked nothing better than legislative work. From the very beginning, however, it was apparent that the legislative goals of the League were not exclusively focused on women's issues and that citizen education aimed at all of the electorate was in order.

Since its inception, the League has helped millions of women and men become informed participants in government. In fact, the first league convention voted 69 separate items as statements of principle and recommendations for legislation. Among them were protection for women and children, right of working women, food supply and demand, social hygiene, the legal status of women, and American citizenship.The League's first major national legislative success was the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act providing federal aid for maternal and child care programs.  In the 1930's, League members worked successfully for enactment of the Social Security and Food and Drug Acts. Due at least in part to League efforts, legislation passed in 1938 and 1940 removed hundreds of federal jobs from the spoils system and placed them under Civil Service.

During the postwar period, the League helped lead the effort to establish the United Nations and to ensure U.S. Participation. The League was one of the first organizations in the country officially recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization; it still maintains official observer status today.

See also League History from the League of Women Voters of the US.

History of the LWV - Grand Traverse Area

History of the League of Women Voters Grand Traverse Area

LWVGTA History In February of 1960 a group of women in the Grand Traverse area received a Provisional Charter to form a local League of Women Voters. Once it was established, the League ladies donned their tennis shoes...and hit the deck running. They studied local issues, held public meetings and reached consensus on issues at the National, State and local levels of the LWV organization. Major efforts were made to support a proposed state Constitutional Convention which was approved in 1963. The League was also active in voter service, holding candidate forums, distributing voter guides, giving voting machine demonstrations, getting out the vote and encouraging registration.

In 1963 the local League was sued for a million dollars by Dan Smoot, a conservative television talk show host from Dallas Texas over comments made by Margot Power, President of the League in the Voter newsletter. Smoot was a politically conservative and often made accusations against activities the LWV-GTA supported including the United Nations, foreign aid and income taxes. Power's article accused Smoot of making comments that were poorly researched. It would have served Mr. Smoot well to have paid heed to a 1964 Wall Street Journal article that said "To differ with the League is to differ with motherhood and the flag." Eventually Mr. Smoot had to drop his case but not until it reached the Supreme Court of the United States. Thus the League began its nonpartisan political participation in Grand Traverse Area with a great deal of publicity and courage.

Ladies of the League took trips by canoe down the Boardman River and donned heavy boots and gloves to help clean it up and preserve it. In 1967 the League's interests broadened when it joined the Lake Michigan Interleague Organization and co-sponsored with NMC a six week symposium entitled "Preserving Environmental Quality in the Grand Traverse Area." Meanwhile men made many contributions to the development of the local league and in 1974 the national league recognized these contributions when they allowed men to join as full voting members. Our local League welcomed men even before Rotary admitted women.

In 1967 the League hosted the state convention and did so again in 2011. In 1968, the League took part in a state-wide drive to place a Constitutional Amendment regarding judicial selection and tenure. The drive fell short of signatures needed but the League has continued to make judicial reform a top priority state-wide and in 2008 held a forum entitled "Courting Trouble" which called for promoting "public financing" for candidates seeking election to Michigan's Supreme Court.

In 2000 permission was granted to the League to change its basis of organization to include the counties of Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Antrim, Benzie and Kalkaska The first meeting of the Benzie Unit was held on Sept. 11, 2001. Despite of the tragedy in NYC Benzie decided to go ahead and had a full house of interested people attend. It meets every Friday for lunch during the school year and has pursues action on issues of importance there. The Leelanau unit developed in 2008 and has conducted studies of clean energy resources, farmland preservation and agricultural migrant workers but then in 2013 decided to be their own League.

Grand Traverse and Manistee Leagues co-sponsored an event in 2008 showing the HBO film "Iron Jawed Angels" at the newly renovated State Theatre in Traverse City. A reception at the nearby Park Place Hotel honored former first lady of Michigan, Helen Milliken.

Voter service which includes candidate forums, voter guides and registration drives continues to be a crucial part of the Leagues activities. The League also puts out a "They Represent You" publication each year for Grand Traverse and Kalkaska Counties. These publications include a list of important election dates, government officials and voter information. LWV-GTA has held candidate forums for every level of government from townships and school boards to the governor. During the 90's LWV-GTA held the only gubernatorial debates in Northern Michigan.

The League has been a strong advocate of libraries for several decades. During the 1980's and 90's the Library Action Committee held monthly soup/supper meetings at members' homes and attended library board meetings to create awareness of the need for a new public library to meet the needs of citizens in the area. In the 1996 it spearheaded a successful millage to fund the building of the Traverse Area District Library (TADL)on Woodmere Avenue. This beautiful state-of-the-art facility has been described as one of the finest in the nation for a community of our size. In recent years the League has also conducted studies on Public and School Libraries and charter schools as well as presented numerous informational forums about local issues such as preservation of water resources, dark money, Public Transportation, county and city government.

Written by Barb Berry, President LWVGTA 2007-2009