About the League of Women Voters
The League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt during the 1920 convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The convention was held only six months before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle.
The League began as a “mighty political experiment” designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters. It encouraged them to use their new power to participate in shaping public policy. From the beginning, the League was an activist, grassroots organization. Its leaders believed that citizens should play a critical role in advocacy. It was then – and is now – a nonpartisan organization. League founders believed that maintaining a nonpartisan stance would protect the fledgling organization from becoming mired in the party politics of the day. However, League members were (and are) encouraged to be political themselves by educating citizens about, and lobbying for, government and social reform legislation supported by a consensus of members.
Today, the League of Women Voters is an organization of women and men. There are state-level Leagues in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Hong Kong, as well as hundreds of local Leagues nationwide. Our local League works hand in hand with our state and national offices to provide comprehensive services to voters, substantive citizen education on important issues, and targeted grassroots advocacy – from City Hall to the Statehouse to the U.S. Capitol.
Thirty-six states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment; Ohio was one of these. In fact, it was the sixth state to do so, along with Kansas and New York, on June 16, 1919.
The Franklin County League, later to become the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Columbus, was founded in 1919, seven months before the Ohio League and ten months before the U.S. League.
At first, the League in Columbus held citizenship schools for new voters. An early “New Voters Party” filled the ballroom of the Neil House and considerably enlarged the membership list. The League sponsored candidate nights and began publication of pre-election circulars, predecessors of the Voter Information Bulletin, which has acquired a reputation for accurate and unbiased presentation of information.
While voter education has been at the heart of activity through the years, Columbus League members have also devoted countless hours to the study of public issues and good-government advocacy through the decades:
- 1920s: Attention was focused on topics of immediate concern: citizenship, women, and children. The Franklin County League studied and took action on legislation relating to employment, safety, and education. It also worked to increase representation of women on the boards of trustees of organizations and agencies. The moral climate of the times led to concerns about temperance, dance hall conditions, and “pernicious literature.”
- 1930s: Local efforts on education revolved around local funding and the battle to ensure that the Columbus Public Schools would not discriminate against married women in employing teachers. Echoing the thrust of the national League, local members backed social security, federal old-age assistance, and child labor laws. Locally, the League worked for better services to county residents in the areas of dentistry, health, charities, and juvenile homes.
- 1940s: The League did preparatory work in Ohio for the institution of the Civil Service System, which had begun the previous decade, and worked to amend the city charter to extend civil service classification to municipal government. The decade also saw the extension of League program to include international affairs. On the state level, the League began landmark studies of apportionment and the Ohio Constitution. The 1944 national convention made major changes in the basic structure of the League, proclaiming it an association of members rather than a federation of state Leagues, and abolishing the department system of managing the various facets of League program.
- 1950s: Work on the Ohio Constitution was rewarded by the passage of nine amendments, including one establishing a State Department of Education for which the Franklin County League worked. Studies of the United Nations and the Cold War reflected national concerns. Also, the witch hunts of the early fifties inspired the League to undertake a two-year community education program focusing on individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.
- 1960s: In response to the growing civil rights crisis, the League directed its energies to equality of opportunity and built a solid foundation of support for equal access to education, employment, and housing. The League broadened its efforts for quality education and employment to include housing and other civil rights. The Columbus League began to study school desegregation in Columbus.
- 1970s: Environmental concerns grew as the League was actively involved in natural resources: air, land, water, and energy. Efforts also focused on ensuring peaceful implementation of a desegregation remedy in Columbus. The League managed elections for the War on Poverty's Model Cities program. The 1974 national convention amended the bylaws to allow men to join the League as full voting members.
- 1980s: The League studied and took action on deinstitutionalization, overcrowding in jails, housing (particularly for homeless women and children), and education.
- 1990s: The decade began with the League participating in "Take Back the System," a national voter campaign to reclaim government and elections. One primary thrust grew out of the League’s original reason for being with emphasis on voter education and campaign finance reform. There was also continued concern revolving around meeting basic human needs and financing education. The League debuted its premier citizenship award, Democracy In Action. The Columbus and Westerville Leagues merged to form the Metropolitan Columbus League.
- 2000s: The League began the 21st Century as strong as ever. The League joined the Franklin County Consortium for Good Government and spearheaded its “Meet the Candidates” forums, and developed a relationship with The Columbus Dispatch to publish its Voter Information Bulletin.
(Compiled by Ellen Haider)
For more information about the League’s rich history of making democracy work, check out For the Public Record: A Documentary History of the League of Women Voters. See also:
- 90th Anniversary Documentary Shorts
- Celebrating 90 Years of Women's Rights (National Women's History Museum short video)
- Ohio Woman Suffrage Association
- Ohio Statehouse Ladies' Gallery
- Past Presidents of the Columbus League