Founded on February 14, 1920, the League of Women Voters is now 100-years-old.
In observance of their centennial, the two chapters in Northwest Florida will host public celebrations that highlight the long history and current work of the organization.
The League of Women Voters goes hand-in-hand with the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
A History Channel Flashback video states that the right of women to vote first became an issue in Philadelphia at the time the drafting of the original Constitution of the United States. But, the 13 states were given the authority to decide and nothing was done.
Up until that time in the 1780s, women were losing the right to vote in states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. Within 60 years, they began to mobilize.
“A group of women, I think approximately 300, met in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Their goal was to develop a strategy for getting the vote for women,” said Janet deLorge, a member of the Pensacola Bay Area chapter of League of Women Voters.
Women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone dedicated their lives to this decades long campaign.
“During that period of time, many devoted women, who were identified as suffragists, traveled all over the United States, by train, wagon, ox-cart, whatever, to encourage the male legislatures in the country to allow women to vote,” deLorge said of their effort.
“Other countries of the world, beginning with New Zealand in 1891 had granted their women the constitutional right to vote,” continues the History Channel video. “The American female contingent now fought tooth and nail for the same privilege.”
By June 1919, Congress finally came around and approved the 19th amendment, which was ratified in August of the next year.
“The League was founded by one of these suffragists, Carrie Chapman Catt, and the league was formed in 1920, earlier than the ratification of the 19th amendment,” explained deLorge. But, it was founded to teach women to vote and get them at least involved in knowing how to vote and a little bit about the process.”
Twenty years after the national organization, the League of Women Voters of Florida was established in 1939. The Pensacola area chapter formed in 1949.
“One of the early issues, the league recognized that we needed a public library” said deLorge. “A study was done to help push that effort and in 1957, the first county public library was established in downtown Pensacola.”
Although deLorge wasn’t around in those early days, she’s worked on other library matters, studies on the Port of Pensacola and Escambia County government and more, since joining the local chapter when she moved from Mobile to Pensacola more than 50 years ago.
She says it turned out to be exactly what she needed, “Because I could get information about the public school system, about local government, about things that were happening in Pensacola and Escambia County.”
It’s been nearly two decades since Charlyle Parrish joined the local chapter. She now serves as 1st vice president and director of voter services. She says one of their ongoing priorities is voter registration, which is now easier than ever thanks to online motor voter services.
“At one time, we went into the high schools, actually setting up and doing voter registration events and did presentations to that level,” Parrish said. “And, now we go into a variety of service organizations, church groups and so forth, teaching them about how the government works, what’s on their ballot.”
Beyond the basics, Parrish says their voter education efforts are even more important in the age of the internet, with more information - and misinformation, than ever.
“We’re trying to also teach people how to look at their resources and where they get their information and to be able to evaluate the information they’re getting, so that when they do vote, they know they’re voting with accurate information,” Parrish added.
Since 1984, the local league has collaborated with WSRE to bring Northwest Florida voters the election-year Rally candidate forums. League members have provided candidate questions.
Additionally, as part of their education outreach, the League has created the website, www.vote411.org.
“We send candidates questions about different issues and then we publish their responses. So, that’s another place where people can get information that we feel is a good source for them,” said Parrish.
Most importantly, the organization has strived to educate voters on candidates and issues, without bias.
“We’re very, very careful in our writings and how we talk to groups and so forth. That is not our role to be partisan, but to be non-partisan,” Parrish explained. “We don’t recommend any particular people who are running for office. We might promote different issues that we think are important that we’re fighting for, but not for the candidates themselves.”
The Pensacola Bay Area Chapter will be sharing more details about what they’re doing and the history of the organization at a 100th anniversary celebration to be held on Saturday on the Pensacola State College campus.
Representatives of the Supervisor of Elections offices in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will participate.
Additionally, each of the league’s different issue committees will be available to show what they’re doing, presenting recent studies on gun and women’s issues.
“We will also have some videos of early history, of some of the suffragists,” said Janet deLorge. There will be displays of some of their annual publications and historical photos, including some from the period in the 1970s and ‘80’s, when they presented “Brick Bats and Roses.”
“And, we recognized elected officials who had taken actions that we felt were appropriate,” deLorge recalled. “At the same time, we presented brick bats to those elected officials we thought probably had not played the game precisely by the rules.”
The Pensacola Bay Area centennial celebration will held at the PSC Student Center from 10 until noon.
Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters of Okaloosa and Walton Counties, originally established in 1961, will hold its own 100th anniversary celebration from 2-4 p.m. on Feb. 22 at Niceville City Hall.
For more information on the League of Women Voters, which is open to persons at least 16 years of age, including men, go to www.lwv.org. You can also link to your local chapters www.lwvpba.org and www.lwvowc.org.