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History

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We believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy. Thats been our vision since 1920, when the League of Women Voters was founded by leaders of the womens suffrage movement. For 100 years, we have been a nonpartisan, activist, grassroots organization that believes voters should play a critical role in democracy.

The League was officially founded in Chicago in 1920, just six months before the 19th amendment was ratified and women won the vote. Formed by the suffragists of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the League began as a mighty political experiment designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.

After it passed in the House and Senate, the final hurdle for the 19th Amendment was ratification by the states. As anti-suffrage groups still fought to oppose ratification, suffrage leaders mobilized to continue their pressure campaign in the states. Finally, the Amendment was ratified in Tennessee and officially made law on August 26.

After World War II, the League carried out a nationwide public support campaign, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, to establish the United Nations and to ensure US participation. Following the campaign, President Harry Truman invited the League to serve as a consultant to the US delegation at the United Nations Charter Conference. One of the first organizations officially recognized by the UN as a non-governmental organization (NGO), the League still maintains official observer status today.

As the League became more active in issue advocacy, the need arose for a separate organizational arm for activities like voter registration and information. The League of Women Voters Education Fund was established to encourage the active and informed participation of citizens in government and to increase understanding of major public policy issues.

In 1972, shortly after congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), LWV voted officially to support equal rights for all regardless of sex. The League followed this vote with a nationwide pressure campaign that continued through the 1970s. That national campaign ended in 1982, but LWV continues to push for ERA ratification today.

The League sponsored the first televised presidential debates since 1960, for which we received an Emmy award for Outstanding Achievement in Broadcast Journalism.

The League sponsored televised general election Presidential debates in 1980 and 1984, as well as presidential primary forums in 1980, 1984, and 1988. The debates focused on nonpartisan issues with a main goal of informing voters. As candidates demanded increasingly partisan conditions, however, the League withdrew its sponsorship of general election debates in 1988. Leagues around the country continue to hold debates and forums for local and state offices today.

The Leagues grassroots campaign for national legislation to reform voter registration resulted in passage of theNational Voter Registration Act(NVRA), also known as the motor-voter bill. The goal: increase accessibility to the electoral process. The motor-voter bill enabled citizens to register at motor vehicle agencies automatically, as well as by mail and at agencies that service the public.

When the 2000 election exposed the many problems facing the election system, the League began to work on election reform. Working closely with a civil rights coalition, LWV helped draft and pass theHelp America Vote Act(HAVA), which established provisional balloting, requirements for updating voting systems, and the Election Assistance Commission.

The League provided a dedicated website for voter information as early as the 1990s. In 2006, the League launched the next generation of online voter education with VOTE411.org, a one-stop-shop for election-related information. Today, VOTE411 provides both general and state-specific nonpartisan resources to the voting public, including a nationwide polling place locator, a ballot look-up tool, candidate positions on issues, and more.

In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering cannot be solved by the federal courts. In response, the League initiated People Powered Fair Maps™, a coordinated effort across all 50 states and D.C. to create fair and transparent, people-powered redistricting processes to eliminate partisan and racial gerrymandering nationwide.

February 14th, 2020, marks 100 years that the League of Women Voters has empowered voters and defended democracy. Over the last century, weve fought for election protection, democratic reforms, and equal access to the ballotall while maintaining our commitment to nonpartisanship and fostering an informed electorate. As we look into our next hundred years, we aim to build power for the next generation of women leaders and voting rights activists. Thats why were celebrating our 100-year milestone by launching our new programmatic focus, Women Power Democracy

The League of Women Voters has evolved from a mighty political experiment designed to help 20 million newly enfranchised women vote in 1920, to a nonpartisan organization that is a recognized force in molding political leaders, shaping public policy, and promoting informed civic participation. To join us for our next 100 years, join your local League today!

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to empower voters and defend democracy.

League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS)