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The League of Women Voters: Background information when reading The Woman's Hour

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The Woman's Hour

The Great Fight to Win the Vote

by Elaine Weiss

The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss X
The Woman's Hour by Elaine Weiss
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 416 pages
    Mar 2019, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

The League of Women Voters

This article relates to The Woman's Hour

Print Review

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) when Tennessee voted on the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, was instrumental in getting the act passed. During the 1920 NAWSA convention, she proposed a national League of Women Voters—six months before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Carrie Chapman Catt Catt called the League a "mighty political experiment," a way to help the 20 million women she was sure would soon be able to exercise the right to vote. Catt envisioned an organization that would not only educate this new electorate but would encourage them to use their newly granted power to shape public policy. The idea took hold and spread quickly; by 1924, there were National Leagues in 346 out of 433 congressional districts.

Throughout the 20th century, the League of Women Voters played an important role in promoting social policies. In 1945, U.S. President Harry Truman invited the group to serve as a consultant to the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Charter Conference, during which they not only supported the creation of the UN, but also of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. To this day, they still have a presence at the UN with one official observer and two alternate observers.

Over time the organization broadened and exerted its influence by taking positions on social issues, and in the 1960s they were at the forefront of the struggle for equal employment and education rights for black Americans and for women.

The League of Women Voters Offices In 1976, the group also sponsored the first televised presidential debate since 1960, for which they won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Broadcast Journalism. The first televised presidential debate took place in 1960 but Nixon's pale, perspiring performance against the photogenic Kennedy left future candidates (including Nixon) reluctant to take part in televised debates, and there was a sixteen year hiatus before they could be persuaded back to the screen.

The League continued hosting the debates until 1988, when they withdrew their support "because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter," according to the League president at the time, Nancy M. Neuman. She said that the candidates' 16-page list of requirements included "that they control the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press and other issues." The League of Women Voters has continued to host candidate debates and forums for other offices, however, offering hundreds of opportunities across the country each year.

From the start, the League's primary focus has been on voter rights issues. According to the oganization's website: "We challenge all efforts and tactics that threaten our democracy and limit the ability of voters to exercise their right to vote." In the early '90s they secured the passage of the National Voter Registration Act–aka the "motor voter law"–which allowed people to register to vote at the DMV, and in 2011, initiated a "Power the Vote" campaign to fight efforts to restrict voting access. They do, however, take positions on other issues that have led many to challenge their nonpartisan status. The group officially supports gun control, climate change and environmental regulations, universal health care and reproductive rights for women, and the liberal lean of these positions generally does align more with a Democratic agenda than a Republican one.

Today, the League of Women Voters, which is also open to men, has over 300,000 members and supporters, and there are more than 700 Leagues across the United States. They "host hundreds of events and programs every year to educate voters about candidates in thousands of federal, state and local races" and "distribute millions of educational materials about state and local elections."

Picture of Carrie Chapman Catt from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Picture of League of Women Voters offices from League of Women Voters

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Woman's Hour. It originally ran in March 2018 and has been updated for the March 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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