The League of Women Voters (LWV) has fought since 1920 to improve public policy through education and advocacy. The league is a grassroots organization that works at the local, state, and national level. Today there are about 900 state and local leagues, all of which can be easily mobilized. The focus of the league changes as society does, providing support and information during debates on public policy. Carrie Chapman Catt founded the LWV in 1920, six months prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Catt's goal was the creation of a “league of women voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation.”
The Virginia League of Women Voters (VLWV) was organized to succeed the Equal Suffrage League (ESL), which was founded in 1909 in Richmond. The ESL became one of the most influential suffrage organizations in the country. The ESL sought to educate Virginia's citizens and legislators and win their support for woman suffrage. The ESL argued that women were taxpayers and had special interests that were poorly represented within government. Shortly after the national victory for woman suffrage in 1920, the ESL disbanded and the VLWV quickly formed and began work to make the new electorate an informed one. The ESL held its last meeting on November 8, 1920, and reorganized at the Capitol two days later as the VLWV.
The VLWV immediately initiated a number of programs and activities, including voter registration drives and education programs, and lobbying efforts for a number of social welfare causes. As a result of their efforts, by October 1920, more than 13,000 Richmond women, including 10,645 white women and 2,410 black women, had registered to vote in the November presidential election. Many women devoted their lives to educating other women on the importance of their vote. In 1927 Naomi Cohn spoke before the League of Women Voters and stated, “The work is just begun, and must be kept up so that the voters of the state shall become educated to that duty of casting their votes . . . and that they will send, to represent them in the legislature, only liberal progressive citizens.” Although the Virginia General Assembly failed to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment the VLWV saw the necessity in continuing to educate the public on political issues so that women could make informed decisions when headed to the polls.
1. Who founded the League of Women Voters?
2. Out of what organization did the Virginia League of Women Voters form?
3. Why did the Virginia League of Women Voters find it necessary to educate women on political issues before they voted?
1. One of the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution is the right to petition the government. How do groups like the Virginia League of Women Voters use that right to effect change in the political process? What does this activity contribute to the fabric of American democracy?
Colvard, Bernice. Virginia Women & the Vote, 1909–2009: The Equal Suffrage League & The League of Women Voters in Virginia. [Richmond]: Published by the League of Women Voters, 2009.