History of 100 Years of the League of Women Voters

History of 100 Years of the League of Women Voters

Logo - LWV USA      100 Years
of Empowering Voters   

 Poster - Liberty Encouraging the Vote

In her address to the 1919 convention of NAWSA (National American Woman Suffrage Association) in St. Louis, Missouri, NAWSA 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." 

A League of Women Voters (LWV), composed of organizations in the states where suffrage had already been attained before passage of the 19th amendment, was formed within the NAWSA.

On February 14, 1920 - six months before the 19th amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified - the League was formally organized in Chicago as the national League of Women Votersunder the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt.

The League began as a “mighty political experiment” designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters. It encouraged them to use their new power to participate in shaping public policy.  

From the beginning, the League has been an activist, grassroots organization whose members and leaders believe that citizens should play a critical role in advocacy.  The League of Women Voters was then, and is now, a nonpartisan organization.  We never endorse, support, or oppose any candidate or political party. 

While we are nonpartisan regarding political parties and candidates, once we have a studied position on an issue we take action and advocate for or against particular policies or laws.

We invite you to walk with us through the decades of the League of Women Voters. 

We hope you enjoy our audio narration of your 'tour.' 

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1920s  Logo - LWV USA  1920s

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  • The first League program, adopted in 1920, encompassed broad subject areas, including issues of:
  • Its first major national legislative success was the passage in 1921 of the Sheppard-Towner Act providing federal aid for maternal and child care programs

  • During this decade,
    • Classes were set up to train volunteer teachers for citizenship schools
    • Institutes were established to study defects in our system of government, initiating:
      • “Know Your Town” surveys
      •  candidate questionnaires and meetings
      • nationwide get-out-the-vote campaign activities

  • In 1928 the League sponsored “Meet the Candidates,” the first national radio broadcast of a candidate forum  

1930s  Logo - LWV USA  1930s

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  • In 1934, when federal and state government agencies were hiring thousands of employees to administer the new social and economic laws, the League launched a nationwide campaign in support of the merit system for selecting government personnel, as opposed to the party-patronage, or ‘spoils’ system.
    • In those years, the League was the only national organization acting consistently for the merit system. And 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 the independent Civil Service 

1940s  Logo - LWV USA  1940s

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1950s  Logo - LWV USA  1950s

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  • The McCarthy era “witch hunt” period of the early 1950s inspired the League to undertake a two-year community education program focusing on the individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution 
  • Next came an evaluation of the federal loyalty/security programs and ultimately a League position that strongly emphasized the protection of individual rights. In 1955League President Percy Maxim Lee testified before Congress against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s abuse of congressional investigative powers, saying:

I believe tolerance and respect for the opinions of others is being jeopardized by men and women whose instincts are worthily patriotic, but whose minds are apparently unwilling to accept the necessity for dissent within a democracy. 

           Percy Maxim Lee, President, LWVUS


1960s  Logo - LWV USA  1960s

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  • On December 20, 1963, President Johnson accepted the Report of the President’s Commission on Registration and Voting Participation of which Mrs. Robert J. Phillips, President of the national League of Women Voters, was a member.

  • In response to the growing civil rights crisis of the 1960s, the League directed its energies to equality of opportunity and built a solid foundation of support for equal access to education, employment and housing as well as voter participation. This included support for the Equal Opportunity Act of 1964

  • In 1969, the League was one of the first organizations calling for the United States to normalize relations with China

  • The League also:
    • Hosted an exchange with women from the USSR
    • Inaugurated the Overseas Education Fund Institute for Latin American women   

1970s  Logo - LWV USA  1970s

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  • In the early 1970s, the League
    • addressed the issue of income assistance and
    • began its efforts to achieve a national constitutional Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). While that effort ended in 1982, LWV continues to push for ERA ratification today.

  • In 1976, the League sponsored the first nationally televised presidential debates since 1960.
    • For this effort, the League won an Emmy award for Outstanding Achievement in Broadcast Journalism
  • The League also studied and adopted positions on:

1980s  Logo - LWV USA  1980s

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  • The League also adopted positions on
    • Fiscal policy and 
    • US Relations with Developing Countries

  • The League sponsored nationally televised Presidential Debates in 1980 and 1984, but withdrew as a sponsor of National Election debates in 1988
    • State and local Leagues continue to sponsor candidate sessions of local interest.

1990s  Logo - LWV USA  1990s

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  • In 1993, years of concerted effort by the League and other voting rights organizations finally paid off when President Clinton signed the National Voter Registration Act (a.k.a. Motor-Voter) which made voter registration more accessible to all Americans, including the elderly, minorities, people with disabilities and low-income individuals.  President Clinton saluted the League and other pivotal supporters as “fighters for freedom” in the continuing effort to expand American democracy. 

  • In the last years of the decade, activities included
    • Running and Winning, a program that encouraged young women to consider careers as political leaders, and
    • Community dialogues on
      • water resources,
      • energy and
      • health care

  • Following the end of the Cold War, as marked symbolically by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the League began several international programs which focused on strengthening women leaders from eastern Europe, Russia, and Africa

2000s Logo - LWV USA  2000s

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  • The League was instrumental in the enactment of:
  • During this first decade of the new millennium, the League:
    • Worked to renew the Voting Rights Act
    • Filed a number of amicus briefs relating to campaign finance reform issues, racial bias in jury selection and Title IX

  • A major effort in this decade was the Local Voices Project that fostered a dialogue on the critical issue of balancing homeland security and civil liberties
  • In 2006, the national League established Vote411.org, a voter education web site that serves tens of millions of voters. In California a local web site, VotersEdge.org, supported by the Leagues around the state, provides similar information

2010s Logo - LWV USA  2010s

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  • The “ Power the Vote” Campaign was launched in 2011 to oppose measures that restricted access to voting, particularly for affected minorities, the elderly, students and rural voters and to help bring cases to court. 

  • Throughout the second half of the decade, the League was hard at work on the 2020 Census to have as complete and accurate a count as possible of every person living in the United States - thus ensuring that all communities were fully counted and had adequate opportunities for investment, health, public safety, and representation.

100 Years Strong


LWV logo celebrating 100 years of service to the USA   

While the League’s programs, priorities and procedures have changed over the years to meet changing times, a League pamphlet written in 1919 describes with remarkable accuracy its basic aims today: 

» Foster Education in Citizenship

» Promote Forums and Public Discussion of Civic Reforms

» Support Needed Legislation 

The League of Women Voters has evolved:

» from what it was in 1920; a mighty political experiment designed to help 20 million enfranchised women carry out their new responsibilities

» to what it is today; a unique, nonpartisan organization that is a recognized force in shaping public policy and promoting informed citizen participation at all levels of government


The Cupertino-Sunnyvale League thanks: