League of Women Voters

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League of Women Voters
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Website www.lwv.org
Founded 1920, by Carrie Chapman Catt
Headquarters Washington, D.C. , United States


The League of Women Voters is a political interest group based in Washington, D.C. Along with its main office, the League of Women Voters has branches in all 50 states along with branches in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Hong Kong. While the League of Women Voters is strictly a nonpartisan organization and does not support any political candidates, it is a political organization and does work to change policy through grassroots mobilization.

History

Founding

The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt during the convention for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, roughly six months before the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Chapman Catt viewed the League as a "mighty political experiment"[1] designed to educate women on how to handle their new responsibilities as voters.

Already the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Chapman Catt used her standing amongst the female community to propose a new group be formed to "finish the fight" and "aid in the reconstruction of the nation."[2] The fight Chapman Catt wished to finish was the political and legal discrimination of women by preparing them in their new role as voters and other civic duties.

1920-1950

Although training and educating women to American politics was the League's original goal, it did not take long for the League of Women Voters to officially put its stamp on Congressional legislation. In 1921, Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Act, which became the first federally funded social welfare measure in the United States. The act provided funds for maternal and child care programs to try and fight the high infant mortality rates of the time period.

Belle Sherwin became president of the League of Women Voters in 1924 and served in that role until 1934. This became an introverted time period that saw the League focus on its original goal of educating women to take their places in their new civic role. It was Sherwin who dropped the idea of a formal education for that of a more pragmatic one. In Sherwin's eyes, the main goal of political education was not merely the memorization and repetition of facts, but the ability to take these facts and relate them to women's lives.

The League of Women Voters first became intertwined with environmental issues during the 1930's when the League backed legislation to publicly owned power facility in the Tennessee River basin. At the request of president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt and the League, Congress officially established the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 to protect and conserve the natural resources in the basin during the construction of power facility.

1950-1970

The League of Women Voters began to reach organizational maturity in the 1950's, reaching between 120,000 to 150,000 members with approximately 1200 local leagues in all 50 states. It was during these years that the League began to focus on civil rights matters that would dominate the next three decades.

The League became very influential in the Civil Rights Movement, an act the organization saw as a necessity. It was a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was designed to protect equal rights under federal, state, and local law. First introduced to Congress in 1923, the ERA failed to be ratified before its 1982 deadline.

The League quickly saw itself deeply involved in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which was central to President Lyndon Johnson's plan of a "Great Society." The EOA was a bill designed to promote the health, education, and general welfare of those in poverty. The League was very influential in the passing of the EOA as well as the battle over its renewal in 1966.

1970-2000

Until 1974, men had not been allowed to become full-time members of the League of Women Voters. On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, this changed as the League began to accept men into its organization. Many members were afraid that once men were included the whole dynamic of the League would change, including the name. However, after several conferences, it was decided that the only way to truly embrace the Civil Rights Movement was to allow men to enter the League.[3]

The League of Women Voters were strong defendants of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and have championed the Constitutional right of choice in reproductive matters since the ruling.

Dating back to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the League of Women Voters have been involved in environmental issues. The League was a supporter and strong influence in both the Clean Water Act of 1987 and the Clean Air Act of 1990. These acts gave the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate the amount of pollutants that can be released into the air as well as deposited into bodies of water.

Current objectives and activities

The League of Women Voters has currently been active in policy to strengthen representative government including the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE) which made an attempt to scale back portions of the PATRIOT Act that infringe on civil liberties. The SAFE Act curtailed certain powers of the PATRIOT Act by requiring court reviews and reporting requirements as well as creating a re-definition of "terrorist" by excluding anti-war protesters and abortion demonstrators.

In recent years, the League of Women Voters has taken interest in gun control which includes support for "strong federal measures to limit the accessibility and regulate the ownership of these weapons by private citizens."[4] Along with stricter gun regulation, the League of Women Voters also advocates a ban on inexpensive handguns, known as "saturday night specials," stronger penalties for illegal gun possession or usage, and an allocation of resources to track gun dealers.

Since the election of Barack Obama, the League of Women Voters have made health care a priority topic and have even re-released its health care statement from 1993, which was the last time major health care reform was visited. The League has stated on several occasions, including in its official position on health care, that it believes basic, quality health care at an affordable price should be available to all U.S. citizens. The League supports the public option plan and has created a campaign through radio ads and Facebook to urge Senator Joe Lieberman, I-CT, to support the public option as well.

Organizational structure

The president of the League of Women Voters is Mary G. Wilson who serves, along with her staff, at the national headquarters is in Washington, D.C. Nancy E. Tate is the executive director of the League of Women Voters as well as the League of Women Voters Education Fund. There are currently two men within the organization who hold high ranking positions. Greg Leatherwood is the Senior Director of Accounting and Finance and Lloyd Leonard is the Senior Director of Advocacy projects the League is involved in.

Along with the national headquarters, the League is also active at the state level with an official state branch in all fifty.  The League is also involved in over 900 communities at the local level in all 50 states.

Achievements

The League of Women Voters was the first group dedicated to the education and development of women in their new civic duty.

In only its first year, 1921, the League played a major role in the Sheppard-Towner Act, the first social welfare program that provided federal money for maternity and child care support.

In 1934, the League successfully lobbied Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress to create the Tennessee Valley Authority Act to protect the wildlife and conserve the natural resources of the Tennessee Valley river basin.

The League was a major advocate of the Civil Rights Movement and championed the Equal Rights Amendment, which failed to pass through Congress. It also helped push Lyndon Johnson's Economic Opportunity Act through Congress in1964. The bill was a step forward in helping those stricken by poverty.

Continuing its role as environmental advocates, The League was involved in the passing of the Clean Water Act amendments in 1987 and the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.

The League helped put together the Million Mom March of 2000. The march was designed to promote tighter restrictions on guns to keep them away from young children.

Public perception and controversies

The League of Women Voters had sponsored and moderated presidential elections from 1976 up until 1988 when the organization withdrew due to a secret agreement between Republican candidate George H.W. Bush and Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis over who would participate in the debates as well as who would be panelists. The Commission on Presidential Debates was formed to take its place.

References

  1. "Our History" www.lwv.org, Retrieved September 18, 2009
  2. For the Public Record: A Documentary History of the League of Women Voters, Barbara Stuhler, 2003
  3. "The League of Women Voters" Political Communities
  4. "Statement on Position of Gun Control," www.lwv.org, Retrieved December 10, 2009