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History of the League

From the spirit of the suffrage movement and the shock of the first World War came a great idea—the idea that a nonpartisan organization could provide political education and experience that would contribute to the growth of the citizen and thus assure the success of democracy. The League of Women Voters was founded on that idea.

In 1920, when woman’s suffrage was finally written into the Constitution after a 72-year struggle spearheaded by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the League of Women Voters was established. The League immediately took on the task of teaching 20 million women how best to exercise their new political rights and responsibilities and enlarged the scope of League work to include all citizens. Realizing that citizens must do more than vote to have an impact on public policy, the founders of the League also made political action a keystone of the League’s wide-ranging agenda.

The League’s progenitors have memorable names like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Carrie Chapman Catt. Here in Oregon, there was Abigail Scott Dunniway, who often rode horseback from town to town, through mud and over corduroy roads to talk about women’s rights. 

In 1919, Carrie Chapman Catt came to Oregon to urge greater efforts to obtain ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, and while she was here Oregon women became interested in the possibility of an ongoing political organization for women to be known as the League of Women Voters. So, when a Victory Convention of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association was held in February 1920 in Chicago, Oregon sent a delegate, Mrs. C. B. Simmons. At this convention, the Suffrage Association dissolved and the League was formed. Mrs. Simmons came home to Oregon as an elected Director of Region 7 with the responsibility of organizing Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. 

The new Oregon League held a “stirring victory luncheon” in Portland. City and state dignitaries were there, church bells rang, sirens and whistles blew. 

In the beginning there were only state Leagues and the National League.  Program was determined at the national level for all Leagues in the country. “A kettle of eels,” was what Maud Wood Park, first National president, called the first League program, adopted in 1920. It contained 69 items, grouped under child welfare, education, home and high prices, employment for women, public health and morals, and independent citizenship for married women. The concept of grassroots program planning evolved as local Leagues did. 

The first effective local League in Oregon was in Salem, organized in 1923. It died several times before the present Salem League was formed in 1947. The Lincoln County League was established prior to 1991.

Membership was extended to men in 1974. Today, the League has 130,000 members in 1,000 local Leagues, 50 state Leagues and Leagues in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Hong Kong. 

Want to know more? Visit www.lwv.org/about/pastfuture/past_history.html.