The League of Women Voters Greater Verde Valley, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, recently celebrated the 94th anniversary of the national organization with a breakfast on Feb. 21. Aside from members of the organization, the celebration included elected representatives from the Verde Valley’s municipalities: Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, Camp Verde Town Councilwoman Robin Whatley and Sedona City Councilwoman Barbara Litrell.
While former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachman [R-Minn.] were both top contenders in past presidential elections, women didn’t even have the vote 100 years ago.
Suffrage was determined by the individual states, many of which did not grant full voting rights to women. Following the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York, suffragettes pressed national leaders on women’s suffrage, which later looked possible as congressmen pushed major constitutional amendments during Reconstruction, but to no avail.
Many states in the West, admitted to the union following the Civil War, enshrined women’s suffrage in their constitutions or in subsequent state laws. However, the original 13 Colonies still limited women’s voting rights to municipal elections or refused them the ballot at all. Some states in the Midwest gave women the right to vote for president and their local town or city councils, but no rights to vote for state offices. That, however, didn’t prevent women from running for president — mainly in third parties — as far back as 1848.
Although the first constitutional amendment was drafted in 1878, national suffrage was still elusive until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, which was finally ratified in 1920.
The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 during the wait for ratification to help newly enfranchised women determine on their own the merits of candidates and political positions. While the nonpartisan league does not endorse individual candidates, it does advocate policy issues, particularly on social issues and civil rights.
The league also hosts forums and debates, including presidential debates in every election since 1976. Over the last 94 years, the league has grown into one of the most well-respected political forums on the national stage in no small part because of its nonpartisanship, which has become more and more important as election cycles grow longer and more heated, chaotic and nasty.
The league is a powerful advocate for fair and honest debate in local, state and national politics, including hosting forums on intensely local issues. Not only do women in elected office have the league to thank, but we all owe a debt to the league for making our electorate more informed and offering voters a forum to ask questions of our leaders and determine for ourselves the direction of our local governments and our nation.