League of Women Voters: 100 Years Strong!
On February 14, the League of Women Voters celebrates 100 years of empowering voters and defending democracy. The League in Vermont joins more than 700 other leagues to celebrate this historic milestone and reflect on our history of advocacy, action, and accomplishment.
A century ago, women were on the verge of getting the vote as Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul campaigned separately for ratification of the 19th Amendment. In 1920, six months prior to passage of the Amendment, Carrie Chapman Catt founded the League of Women Voters as a mighty political experiment to instruct women on political issues. Although Vermont had not ratified the 19th Amendment and would not do so until February 1921, suffragists organized a chapter, “...so that Vermont women may be prepared to use to their best advantage the ballot so recently won....”
From the beginning, the League became the voice of reason, renowned for fact-based, nonpartisan information. It had a bold agenda, adopting 69 items for study including child welfare, education, home and high prices, women in gainful occupation, public health and morals, and independent citizenship for married women. Formative leader Eleanor Roosevelt helped establish its policy agenda, and, as Vice President of Legislative Affairs, lobbied for reforms. Our first legislative victory, in 1921, secured the landmark $1,000,000 federal funding to reduce infant mortality rates.
Following World War II, the League launched an unprecedented nationwide campaign to establish the United Nations (UN) and ensure US participation, working for Americans to understand the vital importance of the UN. We were the first non-governmental organization to be officially recognized by the UN and, to this day, maintain official observer status. The League endorsed the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, NATO, Marshall Plan, economic aid to less-developed countries, arms control, and normalizing relations with China.
During the 1950s, the League courageously spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist propaganda, carrying a two-year community education program to protect citizens’ rights and individual liberties from his unconstitutional investigative powers.
In 1952, the League joined NBC and Life Magazine in sponsoring the first-ever televised presidential debate and hosted three debates from 1976 to 1984 before withdrawing sponsorship in 1988 over demands by the two political parties for unprecedented control to transform format and content. The League made it clear it had no intention of moderating debates devoid of substance, spontaneity, and answers to tough questions.
A top priority through the seventies and early eighties was the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and organizing the National Business Council for ERA to bring business leaders into the fight for ratification. The ERA failed; however, Virginia’s recent ratification has us focused on removing the congressional deadline so the Amendment can be enacted.
The League holds fast to the belief that our nation is at its strongest when citizens are engaged with our democracy. We secured passage of the National Voter Registration (Motor Voter) Act and were in the forefront to strengthen the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1975, 1982, and 2006. We passed both the Help America Vote Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act which closed significant loopholes in campaign finance regulation.
LWV’s Making Democracy Work concentrates on its core mission: 1) Voting rights: expanding voter access, fighting voter suppression, redistricting, and 2) Elections: money in politics, voter education, increasing voter registration and turnout.
The Vermont League (LWVVT) has a vigorous program of registering new citizens at Naturalization Ceremonies, assisting more than 500 new citizens last year. We conduct voter registration drives in high schools and prisons, hold candidate forums, and host successful public programs. LWVVT led the effort for same-day voter registration and establishment of the State Ethics Commission, which counts a League member in its makeup.
The League supports education, employment, fair housing, basic human needs, health care reform, humane immigration policies, environment, gun safety, and census participation. We backed creation of Regional Planning Commissions, Act 250 Land Use & Development program, and championed robust environmental laws for clean water and clean air, being active in the fight to curb acid rain when Senator Robert Stafford was Chair of the Senate Health and Environment Committee. We favored more equitable funding for education, informed the public of inequities for students and taxpayers, and lobbied for changes on how state funding was provided to schools.
While the League's programs and priorities have evolved to meet changing times, a 1919 League pamphlet describing its fundamental functions, still holds true with remarkable accuracy: “The organization has three purposes – to foster education in citizenship, to promote forums and public discussion of civic reforms, and to support needed legislation.” In the words of our founder, Carrie Chapman Catt, There will never be a true democracy until every responsible...adult init, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own...voice in government."