The National League's Movement
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. 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, right 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.
Our local chapter was started thirty-four years ago in Kingston, New York, by a group of women who wanted to change the world while raising their young families at home. A number of those women are still active, mentoring the newer members and still working to change the world. Meetings were held at one or another of their homes, studies were conducted; letters written and the shape of the League of the new. millennium began to take shape. Whenever a 'Leaguer' would be mentioned in the local press, they were known as Mrs. John Q. Public, rather than by their own first names, even with specific requests to the contrary.
Eventually, there were enough Saugerties members to create, their own league, which remains active and independent to this day. In 1998, the Mid-Ulster League was joined by the Dutchess Unit, whose primary focus is on issues important on the other side of the river. In the spring of 2002, members were asked to enter names more descriptive and inclusive of the expanded membership in the Southern Ulster area as well as all of Dutchess County. Ideas for the new name were solicited via the monthly newsletter, The Commentator. At the annual meeting, lively conversation ensued, culminating in the vote that adopted the Mid-Hudson Region chapter as the new name.
Names and faces change, many now with the honorific Mister, but the fundamentals remain the same. Issues are constantly changing with the times and some come around for a second helping. Reapportionment, environmental protection and the right to privacy are a few. The League has been instrumental in resolving a number of problems locally, such as transforming the formerly poor family court environment, recognition of communications issues that affect the criminal justice system and institution of a state of the art county recycling program to name a few.
In the constantly changing menu of needs of the times, the League `restaurant' remains open and thriving, constant in its goals, observing trends and often serving up rich desserts of success and satisfaction for its members while educating the public to help create a better community.
The League of Women Voters of the Mid-Hudson Region offers the wisdom of time and experience, gentle guidance, and youthful enthusiasm to those who choose to come be a part of the future. New members are warmly welcomed and nurtured.