This year, the League of Women Voters celebrates its 95th anniversary. Founded by suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt on February 14, 1920 – just six months prior to passage of the 19th Amendment – the League was charged with “finish[ing] the fight” to ensure that every eligible voter has free and fair access to the polls. Ever since, the League has been at the forefront of efforts to empower citizens to play an active role in our democracy.
In honor of 95 years of Making Democracy Work ®, here are 10 ways the League has helped strengthen our democracy and ensure equality throughout the past century.
- The Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, a groundbreaking law providing federal funding for maternity and child care, was the League’s first major success.
The LWVUS Democratic Convention of 1920.
- Following World War II, the League helped lead the effort to establish the United Nations.
The League of Women Voters was one of the first organizations in the country officially recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization. We maintain an official observer U.N. status today.
- In 1952, the League joined NBC and Life magazine in sponsoring the first-ever televised U.S. presidential debate. We served as the official presidential debate sponsor from 1976-1984. Today, Leagues across the country continue to sponsor candidate debates at the state and local levels.
U.S. Presidential Debate, New York, March 1976
- McCarthyism and the witch hunt period of the 1950s inspired the League to help educate Americans on their individual rights and liberties as guaranteed by the Constitution. This work culminated when LWVUS President Percy Maxim Lee testified before Congress against Senator Joseph McCarthy's abuse of congressional investigative powers in 1955.
LWVUS President Percy Maxim Lee with President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- Between 1950 and 1970, the League increased its effectiveness in regard to both public education and advocacy, prompting Senator George Aiken to remark, “Only 135,000 of them? I thought there were millions.”
League members advocating for environmental protection; Jefferson Parish, LA, 1963.
- Throughout the 70s and 80s, passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a top League priority at the national and state levels. The League organized the National Business Council (NBC) for ERA, the first formal structure to bring major business leaders into the fight for ratification.
The 1972 LWVUS National Convention overwhelmingly approved support of “equal rights for all regardless of sex” as a necessary extension of the League’s long-term support for equal opportunity for all.
- In 1990s, the League was at the forefront of the fight to pass the National Voter Registration Act, better known as Motor Voter. We even have President Clinton’s pen from the signing!
LWVUS President Becky Cain (far right) was present when President Bill Clinton signed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) into law on May 20, 1993.
- Following five years of campaigning, the League helped pass the McCain-Feingold bill, better known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), in 2002. The legislation closed the most significant loopholes in campaign finance regulation at the time, making historic strides in helping protect our nation’s elections from secret money.
LWVUS President Dr. Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins (left) at the press conference celebrating the passage of the McCain Feingold bill in 2002.
- In 2006, the League launched VOTE411.org, the go-to online resource for voter registration and elections-related information. In 2014, over 1.5 million people used VOTE411.org to find the election information they needed to vote.
VOTE411.org has all the information you need to cast your ballot, including polling place locations, candidate information, voting requirements and more.
- In 2014, the League and our partners helped collect 8 million public comments encouraging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut carbon pollution and fight climate change. We’re still pushing ahead in 2015.
Members of the League of Women Voters at the 2014 People’s Climate March, the largest climate rally in history.
The League is one of our country’s oldest and strongest nonpartisan civic organizations. Ninety-five years after the League was founded, we continue to hold fast to the belief that our nation is at its strongest when citizens are engaged with our democracy, from voting rights and voter education to campaign finance reform and environmental defense.
"There will never be a true democracy," said Chapman Catt, "until every responsible...adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own...voice in government."
Cheers to that – and to the next 95 years and counting!
The League of Women Voters is celebrating 95 years of Making Democracy Work® at every level of government. In 1920, the League was founded as an outgrowth of the movement that secured women the right to vote to help new voters engage with their government. Today, the League empowers all voters to improve their local, state and national government. Learn more about the League of Women Voters and join our celebration!