The League of Women Voters (LWV) is an American civic organization that was formed to help women take a larger role in public affairs after they won the right to vote. It was founded in 1920 to support the new women suffrage rights and was a merger of National Council of Women Voters, founded by Emma Smith DeVoe, and National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Carrie Chapman Catt, approximately six months before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gave women the right to vote. The League of Women Voters began as a "mighty political experiment" aimed to help newly enfranchised women exercise their responsibilities as voters. Originally, only women could join the league; but in 1973 the charter was modified to include men. LWV operates at the local, state, and national level, with over 1,000 local and 50 state leagues, and one territory league in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 1909, Emma Smith DeVoe proposed at the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in Seattle that a separate organization be created to educate women on election processes and lobby for favorable legislation on women's issues. When her proposal was ignored, DeVoe founded the National Council of Women Voters in 1911. She recruited western suffragists and organizations to join the league.
Ten years later, prior to the 1919 Convention of the NAWSA (in St. Louis, Missouri), Carrie Chapman Catt began negotiating with DeVoe to merge her organization with a new league that would be the successor to the NAWSA. Catt was concerned that DeVoe's alignment with the more radical Alice Paul might discourage conservative women from joining the National Council of Women Voters and thus proposed formation of a new league. As fifteen states had already ratified the 19th Amendment, the women wanted to move forward with a plan to educate women on the voting process and shepherd their participation.
Though not all members of either organization were in favor of a merger, a motion was made at the 1919 NAWSA convention to merge the two organizations into a successor, the National League of Women Voters. The merger was officially completed on 6 January 1920, though for the first year the league operated as a committee of the NAWSA. The formal organization of the League was drafted at the 1920 Convention held in Chicago.
The LWV sponsored the United States presidential debates in 1976, 1980 and 1984. On October 2, 1988, the LWV's 14 trustees voted unanimously to pull out of the debates, and on October 3 they issued a press release condemning the demands of the major candidates' campaigns. LWV President Nancy Neuman said that the debate format would "perpetrate a fraud on the American voter" and that the organization did not intend to "become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."
State and local leagues host candidate debates to provide candidates' positions at all levels of government.
In 2012, LWV created National Voter Registration Day, a day when volunteers work to register voters and increase participation.
The League sponsors voter's guides including Smart Voter and Voter's Edge, which was launched in collaboration with MapLight. The League, including state and local leagues, runs VOTE411.org, a website that allows voters to input their address and get candidate information tailored to their ballot.
League of Women Voters members in front of the White House, 1924
The League lobbied for the establishment of the United Nations, and later became one of the first groups to receive status as a nongovernmental organization with the U.N.
The League supports a general income tax increase to finance national health care reform for the inclusion of reproductive health care, including abortion, in any health benefits package. The League supports abortion rights and strongly opposed the passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Act.
The League actively opposed welfare reform legislation proposed in the 104th Congress.
The League opposes school vouchers. In 1999, LWV challenged a Florida law that allowed students to use school vouchers to attend other schools.
In May 2019, the League joined 400 other national, state, and local groups, in urging Congress to ensure passage of legislation that offers a path to citizenship to Dreamers and beneficiaries of temporary protected status and deferred enforced departure.
The League advocates gun control policies including regulating firearms and supporting licensing procedures for gun ownership by private citizens to include a waiting period for background checks, personal identity verification, gun safety education and annual license renewal.
A national board of directors consisting of four officers, eight elected directors, and not more than eight board-appointed directors, most of whom reside in the Metro Washington D.C. area, govern the League subject to the Bylaws of the League of Women Voters of the United States. The national board is elected at the national convention and sets position policy.
Local Leagues and state Leagues are organized in order to promote the purposes of the League and to take action on local and state governmental matters. These Leagues (chapters) have their own directors and officers. The national board may withdraw recognition from any state or local League for failure to fulfill recognition requirements.
^"Representative Government – Voting Rights". Impact on Issues 2016-2018 – Online Edition. League of Women Voters. League Management Site (member resources). forum.lmv.org. Retrieved 2018-03-18. "In May 1993, the years of concerted effort by the League and other organizations paid off when both houses passed and the President signed the National Voter Registration Act.... The 'motor-voter' bill enabled citizens to apply to register at motor vehicle agencies automatically, as well as by mail and at public and private agencies that service the public."
^Hachiya,, Robert; Shoop, Robert; Dunklee, Dennis (2014). The Principal's Quick-Reference Guide to School Law: Reducing Liability, Litigation, and Other Potential Legal Tangles. Corwin Press. p. 47. ISBN9781483333342.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Handbook for Members. Boston: League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
Impact On Issues: 2004 - 2006. Washington,D.C.: League of Women Voters of the United States. ISBN0-89959-446-8.
Lee, Percy Maxim; Young, Louise Merwin; Young, Ralph B. (1989). In the public interest: the League of Women Voters, 1920-1970. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. ISBN0-313-25302-1.
Stevens, Jennifer A (2010). "Chapter 9 Feminizing Portland, Oregon: A History of the League of Women Voters in the Postwar Era,. 1950-1975". In Laughlin, Kathleen A.; Jacqueline L. Castledine (eds.). Breaking the Wave: Women, Their Organizations, and Feminism, 1945-1985. Routledge. pp. 155–72. ISBN0-415-87400-9.