Main menu

The League of Women Voters Through the Decades! - The 1920s

Since the League had inherited its structure from the National American Women Suffrage Association, in 1920 it was a federation of affiliated state Leagues, most of which had been in existence as state headquarters of the NAWSA. State Leagues were the keystone of the League's structure, and had the responsibility for organizing local Leagues. By 1924, the National League was organized in 346 of 433 congressional districts. Twenty-three state Leagues and 15 city Leagues maintained regular business headquarters, nearly all with one or more paid staff. A convention, held annually at first and then later biennially, of the state League representatives selected a program that for many years was national, state and local all in one. Local Leagues were not represented at the conventions and the state League delegates also chose the national officers and directors:

to the latter the Leagues looked for leadership which molded them together into one effective organization. The National Board continued the practice of extensive field work which had been so successful in the suffrage movement. Its members carried the enthusiasm and inspiration for the whole League to the remotest and smallest towns. The League had from the beginning the dual advantages of grassroots and central thinking, planning and leadership. That the League structure ran somewhat parallel to the structure of our federal system was an additional advantage because it provided experience which made our form of government more understandable.
( 25 Years of a Great Idea , 1950)

During its first two decades, the League concentrated on study and getting needed legislation passed. All League program at the national, state and local levels was proposed by national Board program departments and standing committees and then authorized by the national convention. The national Board furnished study materials for all national and some state items. This led to national Board and staff expertise and legislative successes that overshadowed the goal of political education of the public at large. The structure that developed in the departments and committees of the National League tended to build up special interests and specialists in subject matter. But there was a sense that another facet of League purpose - development of the well rounded, effective individual - suffered by comparison.


League President Maud Wood Park called the first League program adopted in 1920 a kettle of eels. And no wonder! It contained some 69 items grouped in broad subject areas: child welfare, education, the home and high prices, women in gainful occupations, public health and morals, and independent citizenship for married women! 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.

The League also set up classes to train volunteer teachers for citizenship schools. And the League organized institutes to study defects in our system of government, initiated "Know Your Town" surveys, candidate questionnaires and meetings, and nationwide get-out-the-vote campaigns activities. In 1928 the League sponsored "Meet the Candidates," the first national radio broadcast of a candidate forum. Voters service efforts remain a hallmark of the League's services to the electorate today and laid the foundation for the efforts that make up the League's education program - from candidate debates and candidate questionnaires produced by Leagues throughout the country, to the myriad projects funded through the League of Women Voters Education Fund, which was founded in 1957. (For more information, see the section titled, League of Women Voters Education Fund and Overseas Education Fund.)

Click here to see the entire "The League of Women Voters Through the Decades!" article