Making Democracy Work

History of the League

The League of Women Voters started after women got the right to vote.

League of Women Voters of the United States

In her address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) 50th convention in St. Louis, Missouri, President Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the creation of a "league of women voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation."  Women Voters was formed within the NAWSA, composed of the organizations in the states where suffrage had already been attained.

Carrie Chapman Catt, LWV Founder

The next year, on February 14, 1920 - six months before the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified - the League was formally organized in Chicago as the national League of Women Voters. Catt described the purpose of the new organization:

    "The League of Women Voters is not to dissolve any present organization but to unite all existing organizations of women who believe in its principles.  It is not to lure women from partisanship but to combine them in an effort for legislation which will protect coming movements, which we cannot even foretell, from suffering the untoward conditions which have hindered for so long the coming of equal suffrage.  Are the women of the United States big enough to see their opportunity?"

Maud Wood Park became the first national president of the League and thus the first League leader to rise to the challenge. She had steered the women's suffrage amendment through Congress in the last two years before ratification and liked nothing better than legislative work. From the very beginning, however, it was apparent that the legislative goals of the League were not exclusively focused on women's issues and that citizen education aimed at all of the electorate was in order.

Since its inception, the League has helped millions of women and men become informed participants in government. In fact, the first league convention voted 69 separate items as statements of principle and recommendations for legislation. Among them were protection for women and children, rights of working women, food supply and demand, social hygiene, the legal status of women, and American citizenship.The League's first major national legislative success was the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act providing federal aid for maternal and child care programs.  In the 1930's, League members worked successfully for enactment of the Social Security and Food and Drug Acts. Due at least in part to League efforts, legislation passed in 1938 and 1940 removed hundreds of federal jobs from the spoils system and placed them under Civil Service.

During the postwar period, the League helped lead the effort to establish the United Nations and to ensure U.S. Participation. The League was one of the first organizations in the country officially recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization; it still maintains official observer status today.

Men received full membership privileges in 1974.

See also The League Through the Decades from the League of Women Voters of the US.

League of Women Voters of South Carolina

Thirty years after LWVUS was born, at a conference in Columbia, SC, delegates from the local Leagues of Charleston (1947), Columbia (1947), and Spartanburg (1948) joined with representatives from Greenville and Sumter to form the League of Women Voters of South Carolina (LWVSC). Official recognition for the LWVSC came in June 1951. Today, the League serves 13 communities in South Carolina.

League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area

The following article, "League's 50 years promoting change," was published on the op-ed page of The Post and Courier on December 1, 1997. The article was written by Diane Shockey, who was president of the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area at the time of publication.


It was 50 years ago, early in December of 1947, that The League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area was formed. And like most golden anniversaries, the League is celebrating in a big way. Associate Justice Jean Toal, SC Supreme Court, will be the guest speaker at the anniversary dinner being held this Thursday. Past accomplishments and future goals will be highlighted.

Estella Fitch Harris and Harriet Simons, who served as the first president, were the founding mothers of the oldest local League in the state of South Carolina, with some 40 charter members.

Among the League's early efforts was making county government more open to citizens by supporting a change to a council-manager form of government. The Marshall Plan, for European recovery following World War II, was chosen as the League's first study item. League members could be seen observing meetings of public bodies, such as city council and school board.

Members worked hard to encourage voter participation by passing out information on candidates and issues from their card tables set up on King and Meeting Streets. Another early effort of the newly formed Charleston League was enforcing the voter registration board's compliance with state law in keeping open the mandated number of hours. The public schools, underprivileged children, a countywide library system, and planning and zoning were other issues addressed by the local League in the latter part of the 1950s.

The League studied governmental responsibility for the care of the indigent sick, water pollution in Charleston harbor, the building of a new auditorium, and the structure of county government. During that decade the Charleston League became the first in the state to have a black member. The League was active in assisting the local board of voter registration in bringing the city's registration books up to date. Forums were held regarding arguments for and against a merger of the city and the suburbs.

In the `60s, as a service to voters, the League began publishing a questionnaire prior to elections, setting forth the views of candidates on various issues. Major accomplishments at this time included assistance to the city in the auditorium referendum, support of the referendum for an appointed superintendent of education, and publication of the Charleston County Political Directory.

Areas of study included tax reassessment, the improvement of county government, and a re-evaluation of the financing of urban renewal. The League continued to support the council-manager form of government for the county, and an adequate library system, countywide planning and zoning, and a locally financed urban renewal program. Studied were prepared on the feasibility of consolidation of county services and on water and air pollution. The `70s brought out League support for a new countywide property assessment program and support for the county's case for a solid waste disposal system. Members continued voter registration and providing information on candidates and issues and in sponsoring candidates forums. Housing, welfare measures, pollution, countywide planning and zoning, and equalization of tax assessments were other issues addressed. By the end of that decade emergency medical service and home rule for the county were being addressed as well.

The `80s saw a continuation of candidates forums and concerns about the quality of education being offered in our schools. County council's method of appointments to boards and commissions was questioned, with the League stating that qualifications and not politics should be the prime consideration for candidates.

A state study consensus meeting on the subject of apportionment was held, and the League co-sponsored a panel discussion on the subject of double taxation. The League continued its support for a council-manager form of county government and continued to sponsor candidates debates.

The `90s finds the League continuing efforts to involve citizens in the affairs of their government. Important issues have been transportation, children at risk, education, nonpartisan city elections, and the national League program "Making Democracy Work." The five components of this program are voter participation, campaign financing reform, civic education and knowledge, diversity of representation, and civic participation. A highlight of this decade has been Mayor Riley's declaring Thursday, September 23, 1992, as Jean Hodges Day. Jean is one of the charter members of the League and is still an active member.

During the past 50 years, the Charleston Area League of Women Voters has worked toward encouraging informed and active participation in government by all citizens. Each year the League undertakes a full program of study on local, state and national issues, in addition to preparing and disseminating information for voters.

Reflecting on the issues studied, forums held and causes supported, it is easy to notice that change is slow to take place, and that repeated effort is needed to bring about that change and, finally, that change cannot or will not take place without grassroots citizen involvement and continued effort. This is what the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area does best, and hopes to continue doing for the next 50 years.

LWVCA past presidents

FOUNDING MOTHERS: Estella Fitch & Harriet Simons

1940s: Harriet Simons

1950s: Miriam Weeks, Caroline Smith Toms Carre, Katherine Hancock, Polly Smythe, Jean Hodges

1960s: Jean Hodges, Alice Cabaniss, Florence Byfield, Estella Fitch, Claire Robinson

1970s: Letha Waldron, Barbara Ellison, Alice Levkoff, Mary Ivestor, Nancy Redding, Penny Davis

1980s: Yvonne Evans, Lucy Spell, Ledlie Bell, Louise Storen, Marilyn Henderson

1990s: Carla Lowrey, Jane Theiling, Beth Watson Parler, Diane Shockey, Susan Richards

2000s: Jane O'Boyle, Jane Barr, Barbara Zia, Lynn Greer, Mary Horres

2010s: Julie Hussey, Melinda Hamilton