The Anoka-Blaine-Coon Rapids Area League of Women Voters (LWV ABC) currently serves all of areas of Anoka county and the Champlin area of Hennepin County. In the past, there were multiple city based Leagues in Anoka County - Anoka, Blaine, Circle Pines, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids and Fridley each had a local League of Women Voters chapter.
The Anoka League of Women Voters was first organized in April 1920 when the National League of Women Voters chair Maud Wood Parker visited Anoka. Under the leadership of President Mrs. Gus Peterson, the Anoka League of Women Voters conducted a one day political school for women voters at the 1920 Anoka County Fair. Although this local League later disbanded, the Anoka League of Women Voters was re-organized at a tea held by Mary Hensler Spurzen on May 18, 1938. Twenty-five women attended the tea to meet with two representatives from the Minnesota League. The Anoka and Coon Rapids Leagues merged to form the Anoka-Coon Rapids League of Women Voters in the early 1970's. In 1979, the Blaine League, initially formed in 1966, merged with the Anoka-Coon Rapids League. The following year, the Anoka-Coon Rapids League officially changed its name to the League of Women Voters Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids Area (LWV ABC). Fridley LWV disbanded in the early 2000's, Coulumbia Heights LWV disbanded in the early 1980's and Circle Pines LWV disbanded in 1959, so now LWV ABC serves all of Anoks County, as well as some of northern Hennepin County.
In 1974, the National League of Women Voters welcomed men to full membership and Fred Strobel became the first man to join League in Anoka County.
From the beginning, LWV ABC and its predecessors have been involved in registering voters, informing voters through candidate forums, studying local issues, publishing candidate questionnaires and providing information about the election process.
Over the years LWV ABC has put research into action through projects benefiting local communities.
Past projects include:
- Working to establish city wide garbage collection in Anoka
- Obtaining permanent absentee ballot legislation in Minnesota
- Studying the Rice Creek Watershed
- Educating the public about creating a pollinator friendly environment
Initially, the woman's rights movement was closely allied with abolitionists. After the Congress passed 15th Amendment in February 1869, enfranchising African American men but excluding women, women began forming suffrage organizations. In 1869, Dr. Mary Colburn of Champlin and Sarah Burger Stearns of Rochester formed the first local Suffrage Societies in Minnesota. Local suffrage societies continued to form over the next 2 decades. Sarah Stearns, founder of the Duluth Woman Suffrage Circle in 1872, was instrumental in obtaining woman’s suffrage in school affairs in 1875.
In 1881, seeing the need for a statewide suffrage organization, 14 women, including Harriet Bishop, Sarah Stearns, Dr. Mary Colburn and Julia B. Nelson met in Hastings to establish the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). The MWSA supported and coordinated efforts of existing local suffrage groups and established new local auxiliaries. In 1883 alone, MWSA organizer L. May Wheeler formed formed Suffrage Societies in Wayzata, Farmington, Red Wing, Mantorille, Excelsior, Rochford, Lake City, Shakopee, and Jordan. The same year, she also formed committees for suffrage work in Anoka, Armstrong, Blakely, Brooklyn Center, Champlin, Frontenac, Long Prairie, Long Lake, and Wabasha.
In 1893, MWSA with Populist Party Senator Ignatius Donnelly introduced a bill to extend suffrage to women in municipal elections. The Minnesota Senate went further, voting 32-19 to remove the word "male" from the state's voting requirements. The Minnesota House did not have time to take it up before the legislative session ended. The MWSA and its ally, the Political Equality Club, continued to place a women's suffrage bill before the state legislature every session for the next 25 years, but each time, until 1919, the bill either died in committee or was defeated. In 1897, MWSA was successful in obtaining female suffrage in library affairs.
On March 20, 1919, the Minnesota legislature finally granted women the right to vote for presidential electors. Six months later, on September 8, 1919, the Minnesota Legislature became the 15th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. Following ratification, the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association dissolved and reincorporated as the League of Women Voters Minnesota on October 29, 1919.
St Cloud and Minneapolis were the first Minnesota cities to form local Leagues. By 1920 the League of Women Voters of Minnesota (LWVMN) had a chairperson in each congressional district, a chairperson in 70 of 86 counties, and an estimated membership of "at least" 14,000 when including associated local organizations. At the 1921 LWV National Convention, Minnesota was hailed as the "Banner State" due to how fast the state was organized.
LWVMN started its non-partisan voter education immediately. In 1920, LWVMN had the first non-partisan State Fair voter education booth and developed the “Short Course in Citizenship for Women Voters” and, with the help of local Leagues, held citizenship schools across the state. In 1922, LWVMN published the widely used “State Election Laws Clearly Stated for the First Time”. In 1926, LWVMN featured the four candidates for Governor on a radio broadcast for the first time.
Successful advocacy in the 1920's included state laws making woman eligible for jury duty, limiting work of women in industry to a 54 hour week, improving enforcement of compulsory school attendance, extending the school year from 6 to 8 months, providing physical education in all schools, raising marriageable age for girls from 15 to 16 and prohibiting theatrical employment of children under age 10.
In 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed from a merger of the of National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). It's sole purpose: securing the right to vote for women.
In March of 1919 the National American Woman Suffrage Association created the League of Women Voters as an auxiliary organization, composed of the organizations in the states where woman suffrage had already been attained. When states granted women the right to vote, state and local auxiliaries of NAWSA would become members of the League of Women Voters.
Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919 and sent it to the states for ratification. On February 14th, 1920, at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention, the League of Women Voters became an independent organization to help 20 million women fulfill their responsibilities as new voters.