A dynamic beginning:
Carrie Chapman Catt, long-standing leader of the women's suffrage movement and 1880 graduate of the present Iowa State University, brought the League of Women Voters to life in 1919. Her purpose was to harness the political energy of millions of women who were working diligently for the right to vote. Mrs. Catt envisioned an organization dedicated to informed citizen participation in government and to advocacy for progressive legislation on carefully studied issues.
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 League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The convention was held just six months before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle.
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?"
Iowan Carrie Chapman Catt,
founder of League of Women Voters
"In the adjustment of the new order of things, we women demand an equal voice; we shall accept nothing less."
Carrie Chapman Catt
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. The witch-hunt period of the early 1950 inspired League to undertake a two year community education program focusing on individual liberties guaranteed under the Constitution. In the 1970, by-laws were amended to allow men full membership to League. The League was at the forefront in the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982.
League continues to be at the forefront in protecting voters, defending the environment, reforming money in politics, promoting gun safety, and a host of issues. The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public. The League has a long, rich history,that continues with each passing year.