History & Timeline

What is the History of the League of Women Voters?

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 the History section of the League of Women Voters of the US website.

What is the Timeline of the League of Women Voters?

1840

After being denied seats at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London because they were women, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton made a pact to start a women’s rights movement in the U.S.

1848

First women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, NY.

Women Suffrage Association founded in Brooklyn, NY

1869

Women Suffrage Association founded in Brooklyn.

1918

New York State Women’s Suffrage Party was instrumental in having New York State adopt women’s suffrage in 1917, to be effective for elections in 1918.

1919

The League of Women Voters of the City of New York is formed.

Protest in front of White House for Women's Suffrage

1920

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote is passed.

1920s

  • The League develops and advocates a comprehensive social welfare agenda, achieving its first legislative successes with passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act providing federal aid for maternal and child care programs
  • Membership is open to men, and Fiorello H. LaGuardia, the president of the City Council and future Mayor, won first prize by enrolling 80 men.
  • Successfully advocated for Social Security and the enactment of the Food and Drug Acts, as well as the TVA. Launched a national campaign in support of a merit system to select government employees

1950s

Campaigned for civil rights, emphasizing protection of individual rights and testified against abuse of congressional investigative powers during the McCarthy period.

1960s Timeline Photo - meeting to support equal access to education, racial integration of schools, fair employment and fair housing

1960s

  • Supported equal access to education, racial integration of schools, fair employment and fair housing.
  • Adopted position in favor of direct popular election of the President; Supported the 26th Amendment reducing the voting age to 18; Worked for passage of the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts.

League of Women Voters 19801980s

Joined the fight to pass the Voting Rights Amendments of 1982; advocated for reproductive rights.

1990s

Supported passage of the National Voter Registration Act which simplified voting procedures; Worked for campaign finance reform and effective gun control.

2011

The League is in the forefront of efforts to reform legislative redistricting by supporting an end to partisan gerrymandering and the adoption of legislation creating independent commissions to draw impartial legislative and congressional lines.

2014

The League of Women Voters of Florida was the lead organizational plaintiff in the lawsuit, and was the driving force behind passage of the Fair Districts Amendments. Florida Circuit Court issued an opinion in Romo v. Detzner, a case that examined whether Florida's congressional districts violate that state’s constitution. The Florida decision is major victory against partisan gerrymandering.

Today

The League of Women Voters is active in 50 states as well as Guam and the Virgin Islands. It is a grassroots, non-partisan, multi-purpose organization that encourages its members to educate the public about, and lobby for, government and social reform legislation. Over the years, the League has tackled the major issues facing our nation, state and city.