A SHORT HISTORY OF SUFFRAGISTS AND THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
Sandra Gangle–Excerpts of remarks at the LWVMPC 60th Anniversary Party
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said the following about the early Suffragists: I think about how much we owe to the women who went before us–legions of women, some known but many more unknown. I applaud the bravery and resilience of those who helped all of us–you and me–to be here today.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the familiar words of the Declaration of Independence to frame the Suffragists’ argument for equal voting rights: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Stanton enumerated eighteen areas of life where women were treated unjustly, including the following:
+ Women were not allowed to vote.
+ Married women had no property rights.
+ Husbands had legal power over their wives.
+ Women had to pay taxes, but had no representation in the levying of these taxes.
+ Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned.
+ Women were not allowed to enter professions, medicine or law.
The campaign for woman suffrage continued for 72 years before it was finally successful. Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth joined with Elizabeth Stanton in lecturing and organizing. Abigail Scott Duniway won the right to vote for Oregon women in 1912. Alice Paul, founder of the National Woman’s Party, pursued more radical and aggressive strategies and ultimately persuaded President Wilson and the U.S. Congress to pass, and two-thirds of the States to ratify, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
After the vote was finally won, many women understood that the quest for women’s rights would be an ongoing struggle. So, they established the League of Women Voters to ensure that women would understand American democracy and use their new right to vote wisely.
The League established a network of local and state groups as well as a strong national organization. The League took a non-partisan stance and focused its research and advocacy on issues, not candidates.
In 1947, the Salem League was formed; it later became LWVMPC. Our League has a remarkable record of recruiting and retaining dedicated women–and, since 1974, men–as members. We are very pleased that four of our current members can trace their membership back to before 1957 and that one, Nina Cleveland, was a charter member. The other three are Marian Churchill, Sally Anderson and Mary Stillings.
These Leaguers were diligent at registering voters and educating the public about campaign issues. They conducted studies and worked with fellow Leaguers to reach positions through consensus. Nina Cleveland and Marian Churchill both have told us that they were young and inexperienced about government when they first joined League, but they became empowered to attend public meetings and speak out.
Alice Paul, the intrepid Suffragist whose work and accomplishments we will hear more about in the movie Iron-Jawed Angels once said: The women’s rights movement is sort of a mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.
Women, acting together in the League of Women Voters, both nationally and in our local Marion-Polk League, have accomplished a great deal. American life is better today because of their sacrifices and hard work. We have a lot to be proud of and to celebrate today