|Shortly after being founded the League of Women Voters lobbied both parties at their 1920 National Conventions. Carrie Chapman Catt stands at the far left.
I know today is St. Valentine’s Day, but you didn’t expect us to go for the obvious, did you? Today we celebrate the birth of the League of Women Voters on February 14, 1920.
The League was founded by the doughty Suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt at the last meeting of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. The final ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was still six month in the future, but certain victory was in the air. The founders wanted to establish a non-partisan political organization that would educate women voters on the issues and advocate for issues important to them.
In its earliest years it often presented platform plank proposals to both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
The other main organization in the push for suffrage, the much more militant National Women’s Party, took another path. Alice Paul kept her organization intact and turned attention to the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Catt characteristically wanted a civic organization where respectable club women could do community service and education in keeping with high minded ideals. And she succeeded. Local chapters took hold all around the country
Membership originally was limited to women, but men have been admitted since 1973.
The League is perhaps best known for facilitating debates among candidates on the local, state, and national level. Their traditional management of the Presidential Debates was so even handed and fair that they threatened to include minor party and “nuisance” candidates, much to the displeasure of both Democrats and Republicans. In 1987 The Commission on Presidential Debates was established to manage the debates and make sure that no outbreak of serious inclusion was possible.
On the local level, despite the fact that for many years moderate Republican women and good government activists often dominated local chapters, some GOP and many Tea Party candidates have boycotted League debates. They are suspicious that the League is biased toward the pro-choice side of the abortion debate and they prefer to limit their public appearances to partisan Town Hall rallies where they control the questions and screen the attendees.
Although weakened in recent years by the difficulty in recruiting busy younger women, many of whom now have careers, the League remains a favorite organization of those who yearn for respectful discourse in politics and a focus on substantial policy issues.
Naturally that included a lot of Unitarian Universalists. You may have heard the old joke about UUs: A group of children were gathered on the playground. “My family are Christians,” proclaimed the first. “Well, we’re Catholics,” added another. “My folks are Jewish,” said the third. The last boy didn’t speak up. “Well, what are you?” the others demanded. “I’m not sure,” he said, “I think we’re League of Women Voters.”