Making Democracy Work

History of the League

The League of Women Voters started after women got the right to vote.

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 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.

See also League History from the League of Women Voters of the US.

History of League of Women Voters Toledo-Lucas County

In 1869 a group of Toledo women met in the Superior Street home of one of their group and formed the Equal Suffrage Association. Among those in attendance were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. My guess is that these two women were more than just attendees and had lots to say. These women and those that joined them afterward worked tirelessly for female suffrage. I think most of us have a sense of Toledo's contribution to the movement in Ohio. We all pretty much realize that Toledo is Gloria Steinem's home town... what we may not know is that her grandmother was one of these Suffrage Association women near the turn of the century. By 1915, those fighting that good fight believed that broadening their focus might bring others to their side and help to solve some of the problems they knew existed citywide, so they turned themselves into the Political Equity League. As the PEL, they did not give up on suffrage but worked to educate themselves and anyone else who cared to attend their meetings about issues of concern to the city .... from the 2-cent increase in street car fares and the standardization of loaves of bread to the treatment of juvenile delinquents.

After congress passed the 19th amendment while waiting for state by state ratification, Carrie Chapman Catt urged suffrage associations nationwide to turn themselves into Leagues of Women Voters as each state ratified the amendment, so as to help these newly minted voters understand and use the franchise. That has been the league's mission since the beginning: originally focusing on women voters but quickly seeing that the need for non-partisan information was great. The PEL had something of a head start as it had already been doing some of the things Cady Stanton was suggesting. The group was presenting speakers on issues that citizens thought were important and issues that were linked to government responsibilities and had legislative implications.

The PEL simply morphed, called itself the Toledo League of Women Voters and started focusing on informing women who were new voters on how to register, the mechanics of voting, and the intricacies of party politics. They accomplished this by holding school of politics and legislative institutes, a spell down of questions every voter should know and explaining features about the impending elections. There were also study groups and committees to examine issues from all sides and act on them as the members deemed appropriate with the goal of always enlightening and expanding the members' and the public's understanding. This is still a hallmark of the League.

In the early twenties and thirties, the league was intimately involved in the birthing of the city manager movement to create a council-manager form of local government. This charter change, that was passed by the electorate in 1934 and became effective in 1936, was an answer to blatant machine politics that took the form of open political patronage, favoritism in the awarding of contracts and lack of law enforcement.

Also, during this time, the league worked to establish a family court within the Court of Domestic Relations. One of its members, Eva Eppstein Shaw, drew up the bill that created this court. Before the Child Study Institute existed, there was a Detention Home where delinquent youth were jailed. The league held meetings, tours of the home, talked to other organizations, and produced literature to demonstrate the unsuitability of the Detention Home; not only in its physical structure and condition but also as an answer to juvenile delinquency.

In cooperation with the Toledo District Nurses Association and the Toledo Public Health Association, the league waged a campaign for the need of a full-time health officer. In 1932 the league was lobbying for a board of health, which was eventually set up in 1940. The 1945 a local study, "A Sound Municipal Tax System," led to league support of the 1% payroll income tax proposal passed by council and confirmed by a referendum vote. In 1975, the league's involvement in housing issues led to support for and the establishment of the Fair Housing Center, which reemphasized the league's position for equal opportunity in education, employment and housing.

At one-time, LWV-TLC had satellite units made up of members in different sections of the Toledo Metropolitan area. The League, through its Sylvania Unit, studied recreation needs of that area that ultimately supported the formation of a Citizens Recreation Advisory Council. This council instigated a recreation program, the responsibility of which was eventually taken over by the city and township government. That unit was also intimately involved in helping the League support the Metroparks levy that allowed for the creation of Wildwood, saving it from development.

In recent years the Toledo League has held programs in conjunction with Partners in Education and the local Bar Association to encourage 18-year-olds to know their adult rights and responsibilities and to register to vote. They ran mock elections in elementary and middle schools and brought well known speakers in their fields to town for an annual Signature Event. This event recognized local unsung heroes in some of the areas of advocacy important to us: health care, environmental protection and juvenile justice.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio, League of Women Voters of Toledo-Lucas County, and a dozen Ohio voters were plaintiffs in a ground-breaking lawsuit filed in 2005 to help revamp Ohio Boards of Election practices that failed to protect the fundamental rights of eligible Ohio voters to vote and have their votes counted. We also continue to monitor the Board of Election meetings.

The League also sponsors candidate forums, publishes voters' guides and the TRY (They Represent You, a Guide to Elected Officials) booklet, provides new citizens at naturalization ceremonies with voter registration information and materials, and participates in the National Voter Registration Day every year. We are always open to new opportunities to help citizens participate in our shared democracy.

These things are simply a continuation of what was begun in 1920 in the country and 1921 in Toledo to honor and protect the franchise.

The league is about promoting understanding of issues through knowledge--the true currency of democracy. Almost 100 years ago, when the suffrage amendment became law, the idea that voters could benefit from instruction in the political process and nonpartisan information was a novel one. No one, person or group, had attempted to set itself up as an unaligned aide or guide through the political maze, until the League came into being. The League was the first, and the Toledo League was one of the first in Ohio.