Our History

The League of Women Voters was formed in 1920, so it became 100 years old in 2020! In 2023, the LWV will be 103 years old. We have accomplished a lot during those years and are continuing to work on making changes to public policies that will benefit our community.

Celebrating our Centennial

Commemorating the centennials of both the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution allowing American women to vote, and the founding of the League of Women Voters itself, Leagues around the country planned celebrations for 2020. The LWVOR held a March 7 luncheon and encouraged local leagues to plan events closer to February 14, the actual League birthday. The League of Women Voters of Portland held a Centennial Brunch on February 15, attended by 120 members and guests.

The theme of the Portland League’s celebration was “Honor the Past, Envision the Future.” Therefore the speakers focused not only on history, but also on the path forward. The speakers were Dr. Jacqueline Dirks, Professor of History at Reed College; Samantha Gladu, Executive Director of Next Up Oregon; and Cristina Marquez, Advocacy and Civic Engagement Director of Causa. Our moderator was Hon. Mary Nolan.

For the Centennial Celebration, former LWVPDX president Carol Cushman designed displays of memorabilia. The table décor featured the traditional suffrage colors of yellow, white, and purple. Each attendee received a newly designed LWV button. Centennial Committee Chair Linda Mantel purchased little cactus plants to celebrate LWVPDX honorees: Debbie Aiona, Kris Hudson, Margaret Noel, Corinne Paulson, Bill and Barbara Stalions, and Norman Turrill. We also had displays of historic League photos and examples of the League achievements during its first century, including a short video about our history and mission.

We received proclamations from the Mayor’s office and from the Multnomah County Commission. The Commission invited former LWVPDX president Doreen Binder and 2019-21 President Debbie Kaye to address the commissioners.  Mayor Ted Wheeler attended our brunch.

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, was 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. Norman Turrill was the President of the League of Women Voters of Oregon from 2015 to 2019.

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. See our “Vote” page for more information on our voter services.

The League hosts speakers who address topics of local, state, and national concern. See what we are doing by checking the “Learn” page on this website.

The Portland League’s Action Committee monitors issues of local concern including housing, air quality and climate change. The League also participates in community efforts to create and monitor a civilian oversight system for handling citizen complaints of police conduct. See our “Advocate” page. 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. However, the LWV is political and  takes stands on issues that are important to the well-being of our communities.  These stands are based on advocacy 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 on governmental issues at the national, state, and local levels.  On the other hand, publications like the LWV Voters’ Guide and LWV studies are produced by our Education Fund and are strictly informative and impartial.

The League of Women Voters  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 public participation in  governmental processes.

We welcome everyone–both men and women–to join the LWV and become part of this respected and effective organization.