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History of the League of Women Voters

In 2010, the LWV celebrated the founding of the League of Women Voters, the League of Women Voters of Oregon, and the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

The League of Women Voters celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2010.  The League of Women Voters of Portland commemorated this momentous event in several ways:

  • The City of Portland recognized the anniversary by proclaiming February 13, 2010, LWV Making Democracy Work Day (PDF, 535 KB).
  • The Portland 90th LWV Anniversary Celebration took place at a brunch buffet on Saturday, February 13.  Jane Cease, former Portland LWV President and Oregon State Senator, and Norman Turrill, current LWVUS Board Member, were our keynote speakers.  Read more about the event.  Thank you to all who helped make it such a rousing success!

Oregon Key Player at LWV Founding

In February 1920, after a 72-year struggle, passage of the 19th Amendment appeared to be imminent, and members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association met in Chicago to form the National League of Women Voters. From the start, the nonpartisan organization had a dual purpose: "To foster education in citizenship and to support improved legislation." Today these two purposes of education and advocacy are still central to the LWV mission to "encourage informed and active participation in government."  

Several Oregon women were among the 2000 delegates to the NAWSA Convention where the League of Women Voters was formed. One of them was Effie Simmons (Mrs. C.B. Simmons) who then became a member of the first board of directors of the National League of Women Voters and the regional director for the LWV in the states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Mrs. Simmons came back to Oregon to form the "Oregon Branch of the National League of Women Voters" in Portland in March 1920.

On August 28, 1920, Mrs. Simmons presided at the "victory luncheon" in the Benson Hotel celebrating the final ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Oregon had been the 25th state to ratify the amendment in January 1920, but final ratification occurred on August 26.  It is also noteworthy that in 1923, Mrs. Simmons was the first woman elected to the Oregon Legislature from Multnomah County.

At the start, Effie Simmons wanted to leave the word "Women" out of the name of the organization. Many men supported the suffragists in the early days of the fight to pass the 19th Amendment, and men continued to be supportive of the LWV over the years.  Although the name "Women Voters" was retained, the LWV invited men to join the organization in 1973, and their numbers continue to increase. Norman Turrill who spoke at the Portland 90th Anniversary Celebration, is the first man elected to the Board of Directors of the national LWV, although many men have served and are currently serving on local and state LWV boards. Currently, Mr. Turrill is the only LWV member from Oregon on the national LWV Board.

LWV Story Continues Today and into the Future

Today, the LWV works to effect change on a wide variety of issues in the areas of Representative Government, International Relations, Natural Resources and Social Policy. The League of Women Voters of Portland’s efforts to educate and engage the public include publishing the Directory of Elected Officials and a well-known nonpartisan, Voters’ Guide with impartial, balanced information about candidates and ballot measures. 

The League hosts speakers who address topics of local, state, and national concern. Recent speaking events include a discussion of Oregon’s state budget by George Naughton, Director of the Budget and Management Division of the Department of Administrative Services, and Steven Novick of Defend Oregon; a discussion of the newly formed Portland Housing Bureau by its Director, Margaret Van Vliet; and a spirited debate of Oregon ballot measures 66 and 67 between Bernie Bottomly, the Vice President for Government Relations and Economic Development of the Portland Business Alliance, and Steven Novick.

The Portland League’s Action Committee monitors issues of local concern including urban renewal development. The League also participates in community efforts to create and monitor a civilian oversight system for handling citizen complaints of police conduct. The League of Women Voters of Portland is one of more than 800 local Leagues in cities and towns all over the United States. 

The nonpartisan LWV never supports or opposes candidates or parties, but the LWV is political and sometimes takes stands on issues.  These stands are based on positions which are the result of intensive study, discussion of the pros and cons, and, eventually, member consensus, all at the grassroots level.  These positions are the basis for advocacy of the government at the national, state, and local levels.  On the other hand, publications like the LWV Voters' Guide are produced by its Education Fund and are strictly informative and impartial.

As the organization celebrates its 90th anniversary, it has much to look back upon, but the work is not yet complete and there is much to look forward to.  The LWV continues to work towards meaningful citizen participation in the government processes.  League of Women Voters of Portland President, Betsy Pratt, says, “Because the need for civic education is as strong as ever, we are grateful for the volunteers and donors who make our work possible.” 

All are welcome to join the LWV and become part of this respected and effective organization.

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