by Mel Frizzell, Special Collections Assistant
Women’s votes count! That is what the League of Women Voters is all about! The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 – the same year that women’s suffrage, the legal right for women to vote, was incorporated into the U.S. Constitution with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The League of Women Voters was created from the merger of two then existing organizations – the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and the National Council of Women Voters (NCWV). NAWSA had long been a champion of Women’s suffrage. The original organization was established in 1890 and was led by Susan B. Anthony until she retired in 1900. NCWV was envisioned as an organization to follow NAWSA once women had received the right to vote. At the 1919 National Convention of NAWSA, a motion was made to merge the two organizations into a new organization called “The League of Women Voters.” The merger officially took place on January 6, 1920. The League of Women Voters filled the role originally seen for NCWV and in doing so distanced itself from more radical figures within NCWV. This decision set the tone for the League of Women Voters to become a non-partisan organization embracing women from across the political spectrum.
The League of Women Voters is a non-profit organization. Its original goal was “to educate women on election processes and lobby for favorable legislation on women’s issues.” The modern League works “to promote political responsibility through informed and active participation in government” as well as “to protect and expand voting rights and ensure everyone is represented in our democracy.”
While the League of Women Voters is non-partisan, they often do take stands on political issues. Before taking stands or offering positions on political issues, they first study these issues and develop a consensus of members. They support many progressive positions. They support health care reform and believe that “Every U.S. resident should have access to affordable, quality health care, including birth control and the privacy to make reproductive choices.” They believe that we should protect the environment. They support counting all citizens in our national Census. They believe in fair immigration policies that “promote the reunification of immediate families, meet economic, business, and employment needs, and [are} responsive to those facing political persecution or humanitarian crises.” They are against racial and partisan gerrymandering of voting districts and support a “fair and transparent process that produces the most representative maps.” They are against big money, special interests, SuperPACS, and dark money in American politics and for greater transparency regarding campaign finances. They are against voter suppression whether the suppression of women, People of Color, the disabled, or other marginalized groups. They are for responsible gun control. The League of Women Voters has also done studies and taken stands on the Equal Rights Amendment, domestic violence, sexual harassment, green space, affordable housing, civil rights restoration, and many other issues.
The League of Women Voter’s helps women take action on many of these issues by creating Action Guides, pamphlets, and by offering tips on lobbying and writing one’s legislators. At the organization level, national, state, and local Leagues advocate for legislation on these issues and even take up litigation in support or opposition of certain issues and causes.
In addition to their studies and positions, the League of Women Voters actively works to register voters. They provide voting information to voters; create non-partisan voting guides; survey the opinions and platforms of political candidates; moderate candidate debates; and even monitor elections.
The League of Women Voters includes the national organization, state-wide boards, and local groups. Each of these levels has its own newsletters, conventions, meetings, and other events.
There had been a chapter of the League active in Norfolk, Virginia in the 1930s. That chapter had disbanded at the beginning of World War II. In 1957, a new League chapter was founded in Norfolk. In the early 1960s, the League gained additional membership from Virginia Beach when Princess Anne County merged with the city of Virginia Beach. In 1964, the Norfolk and Virginia Beach membership merged to become the League of Women Voters of Norfolk-Virginia Beach. In 1994, the local League was renamed League of Women Voters of South Hampton Roads.
To learn more, contact us about viewing the Records of the League of Women Voters of Hampton Roads
Records of the League of Women Voters of Hampton Roads – ODU Libraries Special Collections and University Archives