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The League of Women Voters Through the Decades! - Founding and Early History

From the spirit of the suffrage movement and the shock of the First World War came a great idea - that a nonpartisan civic organization could provide the education and experience the public needed to assure the success of democracy. The League of Women Voters was founded on that idea.

In her address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) 50 th convention in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1919, 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. And so a League of Women Voters was formed within NAWSA, composed of the organizations in the states where woman suffrage had already been attained.

The next year, on February 14, 1920, six months before the 19 th 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 that 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 beginning, however, it was apparent that the legislative goals of the League would not be exclusively focused on women's issues and that education aimed at all of the electorate was in order. For almost 90 years, the League has helped millions of women and men become informed participants in government. And it has tackled a diverse range of public policy issues.

From the beginning the League took action on its stands; for several years, through effective lobbying, the League got selected issues included in the platforms of both major political parties and worked for enactment of legislation furthering its program goals. Over the years many procedural changes have been made in the way League program is defined, adopted and structured, but through all the changes the basic concept of study-member agreement-action has remained constant.

The League is political, but non-partisan. It never supports political parties or candidates, but it does study issues, develop consensus positions and then actively work to support those positions. As Carrie Chapman Catt noted in 1919, "Is the (League) political? Certainly, but not partisan. Its members are as free as other women to join and vote with the party of their choice. They make no pledge otherwise in joining the League."

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