History of the League
The League of Women Voters started after women got the right to vote.
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.
While we all know that Carrie Chapman Catt fought tirelessly for women's suffrage both here and abroad and that she founded the League of Women Voters, here are some facts about this remarkable woman of which we may not be aware: She supported efforts for both the League of Nations and the United Nations, the latter of which the League of Women Voters helped establish. Carrie Catt described the League as a "mighty experiment". Nearly 95 years later the League is still a mighty experiment in making democracy work through citizen education and engagement.
- Originally interested in practicing medicine, Catt received a Bachelor of Science degree in general science in 1880. She was the only woman in her class.
- When her husband died in 1885, Catt made a living by becoming San Francisco's first female newspaper reporter.
- By 1900, Catt succeeded the 80-year-old activist Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the organizational predecessor to the League.
- Catt returned to NAWSA as president in 1915. Catt's relentless campaigning is credited with helping win President Woodrow Wilson's respect and support -- which ultimately led to the passage of the 19th Amendment.
- Catt was close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, a fellow League leader and women's rights pioneer.
Excerpted from LWVUS