League of Women Voters
LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS. When the victory for suffrage was won, Carrie Chapman Catt was president of the National American Women's Suffrage Association. Catt was determined that women would use the vote and envisioned the League of Women Voters to forward this goal. On 14 February 1920, the organization came to life with Maud Wood Park, a leading suffragist, as president.
The League focused on educating women to vote. The method they used became a hallmark of the organization: members studied issues closely at the local level, and took a stance when consensus was achieved.
In the first blush of women's suffrage, many goals of women's groups seemed attainable. The League lobbied for the Sheppard-Towner Act, to provide funding for maternal and child health clinics. The act passed in 1921. In 1922, the League supported the Cable Act. It too passed, establishing independent citizenship for women who married foreigners. The League then advocated a child labor amendment; however, it was not ratified by enough states to be added to the Constitution. The League also worked for membership in the League of Nations and the World Court.
In 1923, the National Woman's Party introduced the Equal Rights Amendment, granting legal equality to women under the Constitution. Social feminists who dominated the League of Women Voters opposed the amendment, believing it imperiled protective labor legislation, based on women's special needs. The amendment did not pass.
By the mid-1920s, Congress realized that the woman's vote was not as large or as influential as anticipated, and began to retreat from women's legislation such as the Sheppard-Towner Act, allowing it to expire in 1929.
During the depression, the League lobbied for the development of a publicly owned power system in the Tennessee River Valley. The league sponsored national forums, conferences, and debates to influence lawmakers, who passed the legislation needed for the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority. When Eleanor Roosevelt, an early member of the League, called a conference on the emerging needs of women, the League participated. The League also contributed to formulation of the Social Security Act of 1935.
Before World War II began, the League advocated an internationalist program and supported the Lend-Lease Act of 1941. In 1945, the League acted in support of the United Nations charter, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. During the postwar red scare, the League pressed for individual liberties.
The president of the League served on the Committee on the Status of Women from 1961 to 1963. The report issued from the Committee made recommendations for improvement of women's status. The committee did not support the Equal Rights Amendment. (It was not until 1972 that the League would support the Equal Rights Amendment.) The 1964 Civil Rights Act nullified special legislation for working women undermining the basis for opposition.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the League studied issues of poverty, unemployment, and racism, supporting fair housing, fair employment, and integration. It also took a strong position on environmentalism.
More recently, the League has advocated gun control, streamlined voter registration or motor-voter laws, the right to reproductive choice, campaign finance re-form, and health care reform.
During its eighty years, the League has become known for its careful study of issues and earned a reputation for citizen participation. It maintains a non-partisan status. In 1998, the League elected its first African American president, Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins. In 2001, membership was 130,000.
Perry, Elisabeth Israels. Women in Action: Rebels and Reformers, 1920–1980. Washington, D.C.: League of Women Voters Education Fund, 1995.
Young, Louise M. In the Public Interest: The League of Women Voters, 1920–1970. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.
See alsoSuffrage ; Women's Rights Movement: The Twentieth Century .