History of the League Women Voters

"The First Fifty Years, League of Women Voters of Minnesota 1919-1969"

 

Read the history of Clara Hampson Ueland , the first President of League of Women Voters of Minnesota.

Women's Rights Movement

Dissent is the heritage of the League of Women Voters.  The organization grew out of 80 years of protest over women not being allowed to vote.   Surely its beginning dates from that day in 1840 when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London -- the day Mrs. Mott, a delegate, was denied a seat because she was a woman.  Outraged, these two determined to start a woman's rights movement in the United States.  Between the determination and the deed eight years passed because it was a bold proposal.  The first Woman's Rights Convention was held in 1848. Out of it came the statement "It is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves the sacred right to the elective franchise."  No woman could have read it then without a shudder of disbelief or a thrill of elation.  It was Elizabeth Stanton's resolution, and the only one on the agenda which caused consternation.  Even Lucretia Mott disapproved: "Oh, Lizzie! If thou demands that, thou wilt make us ridiculous! We must go slowly."  It was the opinion of the convention that so radical a proposal would jeopardize the movement and prevent other reforms, but Mrs. Stanton insisted that only with the vote would legal changes be achieved and women's status significantly altered.

Struggle for Suffrage

Meetings for the cause proliferated.  Members of the Women's Rights organization wrote, lectured, recruited, and importuned.  In 1869, just 21 years after the first convention, two woman suffrage associations were formed -- the American and the National.  They merged in 1890 to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).  It had one objective: to secure the vote. Every League member must contemplate with envy the solitary goal which permitted concentration of personnel, time, energy, and funds on winning for women the elective franchise "by appropriate national and state legislation."

The idea that women were individuals with the right to citizenship and authority over their persons, children, and property was revolutionary.  Like any other revolution it had its partisans, and sex was not all that divided them.  Many women were opposed to voting by women and shocked by public display. The suffragists needed their determination, their stamina, their courage.  Not only were they stubbornly opposed; they were threatened and ridiculed.

NAWSA had developed into a formidable organization over the years.   Following the political conventions Carrie Chapman Catt, president, called the Association into emergency session and proposed that it concentrate on the passage of a federal amendment, giving its national Board authority over the formerly self-directed state associations.  Members present immediately pledged $818,000 toward a million dollar campaign fund.  The final thrust had begun.

It was 1917.  Financially, the Association was aided by a legacy of nearly a million dollars from the estate of Mrs. Frank Leslie (New York publisher) to be used by Mrs. Catt "as she shall think most advisable to the furtherance of the cause of woman's suffrage."  Psychologically, New York's passage of a constitutional referendum granting women the vote increased the national effect of the action by several other states which earlier in the year had granted some form of suffrage -- North Dakota, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Arkansas.  As women took on jobs left vacant by conscription and contributed as volunteers to the war effort, the old slogans about "woman's place" became obsolete.

Congress Sends 19th Amendment to States

President Wilson called a special session for May 1919, and on June 4 the 19th Amendment was sent to the states.  Its wording was the same proposed by Susan B. Anthony in 1875: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

After this success the goal was clearly visible.  But NAWSA was already looking to the future.  As early as 1916 a committee within the organization was suggested to represent the equal suffrage states.  The Jubilee Convention in St. Louis, held in March 1919 on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the suffrage associations, made its chief business the planning of a new organization -- "a League of Women Voters, one of whose objects shall be to speed the suffrage campaign in our own and other countries."  In her convention address Mrs. Catt said, "I propose ... a League of Women Voters to `finish the fight' and to aid in the reconstruction of the nation."

The convention recognized national needs that required attention simultaneously with the old goal of suffrage.  It was willing to change in order to cope with these conditions in the postwar world.  It had a vision of what might be done and a plan for doing it.

Mrs. Catt completed her stirring call to action:

"The spirit of this new crusade will travel from state to state, from city to city ... a nationwide campaign against the world's oldest enemy -- ignorance.   What should be done, can be done; what can be done, let us do."

Franchise of Women in Minnesota

On the same day, March 24, 1919, the Minnesota Legislature granted to the women of the state the right to vote for presidential electors.

Action in the nation was accelerated now as states began to ratify the 19th Amendment and as suffrage associations in those states automatically became members of the League of Women Voters, still an auxiliary of NAWSA.  Governor J.A.A. Burnquist called a special session of the Minnesota Legislature and on September 8, 1919, it ratified the 19th Amendment: in the House 120 to 6; in the Senate 60 to 5. Thus full franchise came to the women of Minnesota.  Those who worked for it began to plan immediately for its use.

League of Women Voters of Minnesota Organized

The Minnesota Suffrage Association dissolved its corporation on the seventh of October and passed a resolution that its effects -- funds, office supplies, equipment -- "become on that date the property of the Minnesota League of Women Voters to be organized October 29, 1919, as a branch of the national League of Women Voters for the purpose of completing full enfranchisement of women and increasing effectiveness of women's votes in furthering better government."

Important dates in LWV Minnesota History

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