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.
Excerpted from a history written by Sondra F. Engel in 2010
How the League came to Oxford is worth noting. As early as 1952, a number of Oxford women debated which organization was most needed in the community. According to Barbara Whelpton, a founding member and former president, the question was should it be the Junior League, which raises funds for charity, or should it be the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization interested in public policy? The League won the day, largely because the women leaders of the time had experience with the League elsewhere.
Leading the effort were Irene Lindsey, a member of the Oxford Village Council, and Avis Cullen, owner/editor of The Oxford Press. They developed a list of potential members, contacted the Ohio League President for assistance, and gained support from the Leagues in Hamilton, Middletown, and Dayton. Bob White, writing in his "Beneath the Tower" column in The Oxford Press of Feb. 5, 1953 said, "...We hear a movement's afoot to establish a league of women voters here. ... Sounds O.K. ...."
Local residents Florence Bain, Dessie White, Miriam Steiniger, and others called a meeting at Town Hall on March 23, 1953. Thirty women came to learn about the responsibilities of membership. On April 7 of that year, interest was high at a formal organizational meeting for the provisional League. Full League status was granted the following year. Since then, the League has participated actively in the life of the Oxford community.
Who are the members of the League, what have they done, and what has been their impact? Membership is open to all citizens at least 18 years old and, since 1974, men have been welcomed. Citizens who join become members of the national and state organizations. The local League offers membership in the four townships which comprise the Talawanda School District.
Local activity continues to attract members who want to make a difference in their community. Voter service work is perhaps the most visible and widely appreciated function of the League. Members work to provide non-partisan information about candidates and ballot issues before each General Election. Additionally, members offer convenient voter registration opportunities each year.
After study of local concerns and membership consensus, the League seeks to educate the community through public meetings and the media. League studies of issues such as the Home Rule Charter, annexation, transportation, taxation, elderly services, and libraries have often resulted in endorsed policy positions. In the 1970s, the League advocated before the Oxford City Council for a minimum housing code and a fair housing code. After a study in 2005, League supported city incentives for the construction of much needed affordable housing. With regard to the Talawanda School District, members have continuously observed school board meetings since the 1960s, where they have learned first-hand about the governance of the school system. Another school involvement relates to the Kids Voting Program, a K-12 citizenship curriculum. Introduced by League members to school leaders in 1999, this program continues today as a part of each student's education.
Often the League works with other local groups to promote a particular issue. Through the years, such coalitions have included NAACP, Three Valley Conservation Trust, Audubon Society, Miami University Women's Center, WMUB-FM, and the Ad hoc Recycling Committee.
The League welcomes inquiries, memberships, and donations.
Sondra F. Engel is a past president of the League of Women Voters of Oxford