Making Democracy Work

History of the League

The League of Women Voters started after women got the right to vote.

How did the League begin?

LWV US History

In her address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) 50th convention in St. Louis, Missouri, President Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the creation of a "league of women voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation."  Women Voters was formed within the NAWSA, composed of the organizations in the states where suffrage had already been attained.

Early Suffragists

The next year, on February 14, 1920 - six months before the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified - the League was formally organized in Chicago as the national League of Women Voters. Catt described the purpose of the new organization:

    "The League of Women Voters is not to dissolve any present organization but to unite all existing organizations of women who believe in its principles.  It is not to lure women from partisanship but to combine them in an effort for legislation which will protect coming movements, which we cannot even foretell, from suffering the untoward conditions which have hindered for so long the coming of equal suffrage.  Are the women of the United States big enough to see their opportunity?"

Maud Wood Park became the first national president of the League and thus the first League leader to rise to the challenge. She had steered the women's suffrage amendment through Congress in the last two years before ratification and liked nothing better than legislative work. From the very beginning, however, it was apparent that the legislative goals of the League were not exclusively focused on women's issues and that citizen education aimed at all of the electorate was in order.

Since its inception, the League has helped millions of women and men become informed participants in government. In fact, the first league convention voted 69 separate items as statements of principle and recommendations for legislation. Among them were protection for women and children, right of working women, food supply and demand, social hygiene, the legal status of women, and American citizenship.The League's first major national legislative success was the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act providing federal aid for maternal and child care programs.  In the 1930's, League members worked successfully for enactment of the Social Security and Food and Drug Acts. Due at least in part to League efforts, legislation passed in 1938 and 1940 removed hundreds of federal jobs from the spoils system and placed them under Civil Service.

During the postwar period, the League helped lead the effort to establish the United Nations and to ensure U.S. Participation. The League was one of the first organizations in the country officially recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization; it still maintains official observer status today.

See also League History from the League of Women Voters of the US.

LWV Piedmont History

It was almost 70 years ago that a group of women in Piedmont gathered together to begin our League of Women Voters. The first meeting of the proposed provisional LWV of Piedmont was held on October 29, 1947. Mrs. Lawrence Fletcher, temporary chair, introduced UC Political Science Professor Harris, who spoke on " The Role of the Citizen in Government." Two study groups were formed. One group studied the Piedmont City Government, the City Charter, Civil Service and a proposed Education amendment.

In November of 1947 the group sent an application to the LWV of California for recognition as a Provisional League with 50 paid members ($3.50 each). The first treasurer's report showed a $161.39 balance. Mrs. Ed Wallace was the first president. January 14, 1948, was the closing date for charter membership with 110 members listed. Early interests included the schools, Public Health Services in Alameda County, and the Piedmont Community Swimming Pool (defeated).

In the 50's our local program supported community planning for an adequate recreational program including a swimming pool, sound pensions for all city employees and a high level of education for children in the Piedmont Schools, including guidance and counseling. The League sent a letter to the Board of Education expressing our interest and also offered to help with improving the physical plant. Other interests include the United Nations and World Trade.

In the 60's and 70's we supported school bonds and studied Juvenile Justice. The issue of the Oakland Library arose and several studies were done. Piedmont Our Town was published and updated.

In the 80's our Candidates Nights and Pro and Con evenings were taped by the local Community TV channel KCOM. We studied child care and local planning as well as transportation and growth in Alameda County and the state. The 80's ended with a LWVC study on transportation and growth in California and the Alameda County Affidavit Project was organized. We supported the action campaign supporting a woman's right to reproductive choice and marched as a group in the San Francisco pro-rights march. We participated in the discussions regarding the choice of recyclers and the big items for debate at Candidates' Night were lighting and leaf blowers. There was a "Thinking Woman's Fashion Show" in honor of the LWV 70th birthday. Interest in Gun Control issues began.

In the 90's the League continued to maintain positions for quality education in Piedmont and to support free library services. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the US Judiciary at a fundraiser and pursued improved recycling options. Under the direction of Barbara Peters and Ann Lyman we began a local study of gun control. This culminated in adoption of the Gun Control Position by LWV United States in 1998. Great Decisions Discussion groups were organized in 1991 and continue to meet every spring 26 years later. Do you remember our October, 1991, fundraiser that was canceled as a result of the disastrous Oakland Hills Fire? After the '89 earthquake and the '91 fire, we held meetings on Disaster Preparedness in Piedmont. The League continued with Candidates' Nights and Pro and Con Meetings. We began to look at campaign finance reform and health care. We all became computer-savvy and were able to access state and national League web-sites saving much time and money. Our own Piedmont website went up in February, 2001.

In the first decade of the 21st century we:

  • Joined the Million Mom March
  • Studied a variety of Voting Systems.
  • Registered High School voters
  • Began to look at Energy Issues
  • Calculated out ecological footprints
  • Learned about "Slow Food."
  • Started Field Trips: EBMUD, Oakland Port, Waste Management Recycle Facility, Bay Bridge Construction.
  • Helped with the LWVC Convention in Oakland
  • Participated in State studies on Energy and Education
  • Joined Piedmont Diversity Committee, PAAC and PAAL to present Diversity Films
  • Anguished over Voting systems-electronic and paper

Thanks to Karin Mai and Mary Ann Benson for this historical summary.

Two of our presidents have gone on to become president of the LWVCalifornia: Margaret Hayes Parsons and Gail Dryden.