The League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge (LWVOR) joins more than 700 chapters across the country to mark February 14, 2020, as the historic centennial celebration of the national League of Women Voters (LWV) and the landmark passage of the 19th amendment that “granted” women the right to vote.
In 1946, gas was 15 cents a gallon, Oak Ridge was shifting into civilian life, and the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge was born. According to a publication produced for its fiftieth anniversary, “the chapter grew out of a small group of women anxious to work toward world peace, who called themselves Women for World Government. However, they soon realized their limitations as an individual body and called on the Norris LWV for advice. Going through appropriate channels, Oak Ridge soon after received their provisional charter.” Today LWVOR is the one of the most active chapters in Tennessee.
While Oak Ridgers were growing their own city, LWVOR were actively involved. Areas of interest and study have paralleled the major issues in the city and county, including taxation, annexation, the court system, Federal Financial Assistance, planning, zoning, land use, housing, economic development, bond issues for the civic center and library, new schools, the Comprehensive Plan, and all the other issues that make a city tick.
The woman suffrage movement actually began in 1848, when a women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. The Seneca Falls meeting was not the first in support of women’s rights, but suffragists later viewed it as the meeting that launched the suffrage movement. For the next 50 years, woman suffrage supporters worked to educate the public about the validity of woman suffrage. Under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other women’s rights pioneers, suffragists circulated petitions and lobbied Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women.
At the turn of the century, women reformers in the club movement and in the settlement house movement wanted to pass reform legislation. However, many politicians were unwilling to listen to a disenfranchised group. Thus, over time women began to realize that in order to achieve reform, they needed to win the right to vote. For these reasons, at the turn of the century, the woman suffrage movement became a mass movement.
After it passed in the House and Senate, the final hurdle for the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote was ratification by the states. As anti-suffrage groups still fought to oppose ratification, suffrage leaders mobilized to continue their pressure campaign in the states. Finally, the Amendment was ratified in Tennessee, the last state to do so, and officially made law on August 26, 1920.
The LWV was officially founded in Chicago in 1920, just six months before the 19th amendment was ratified and women won the vote. Formed by the members of the National Woman Suffrage Association, the League began as a mighty political experiment designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.
The women who fought for voting rights in the first part of the 20th century did not know if they would be successful, and yet they persevered – changing our democracy and society. In telling the true story behind the 19th, we must also stop perpetuating the myth that women were “granted” the right to vote. Let’s be clear: women “won” the right to vote. It was not “given” to us. It was a fight, decades in the making. And many suffragists, like Susan B. Anthony, didn’t live to see the victory at the end of that struggle.
To celebrate the vibrant past and to look to the future, Mary Ann Reeves, LWVOR member and part of the of the Suffrage Coalition, a 501c(3) nonprofit group and a special project of the East Tennessee Foundation, will coordinate plans for Oak Ridge to participate in the Collation’s summer through fall regional events the centennial history of women’s suffrage and the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment. Information regarding the events will be posted as they become available.
The mission of the Suffrage Coalition is to “locate, preserve, and educate regarding the history of women’s suffrage, especially in the state of Tennessee."
LWVOR is a non-partisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government and works to increase understanding of public policy through unbiased studies of public issues. Membership is open to both men and women. For more information, visit online at lwvoakridge.org
~ Maureen Hoyt, League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge Special Publicity Chair