The National League of Women Voters (NLWV) was formed during the final stages of the woman suffrage campaign. In 1917 Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, outlined a plan to unite women, in states where suffrage had already passed, into a national league of women voters to coordinate the fight for a federal suffrage amendment. The league became more formalized in March 1919, when suffrage supporters met in St. Louis to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first state (Wyoming) to grant suffrage to women. At the meeting, women accepted Catt's plan for a united suffrage organization and officially inaugurated the National League of Women Voters.
The purpose of the organization was to teach women good citizenship and voter responsibility. The NLWV also believed that they had a social responsibility for the welfare of women and children, a responsibility that followed a tradition established by nineteenth-century reformers. During the era of transition from a rural, agricultural society to a more urban, industrial world, middle-class women became involved in various reforms to better the lives and working conditions of women and children. Ultimately, women's activism in Progressive Era reform advanced a new definition concerning the role of the government in American life. League women continued the work of the nineteenth-century reform movement.
After the official founding of the NLWV in St. Louis in 1919, league delegates elected Katherine Pierce of Oklahoma City as the national organization's secretary. Although an Oklahoma woman was involved in the NLWV, establishing an Oklahoma organization was difficult. National leaders, however, strove to organize state branches in order to promote league issues.
In August 1920 league representative Lola Walker of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, arrived in Oklahoma to establish a state organization before the November 1920 election, but her efforts failed. After the fall election Marie B. Ames of St. Louis founded an Oklahoma league by operating citizenship schools that discussed issues, helped advertise the NLWV, and acquainted Oklahoma women with the organization's concepts.
By December 1920 there was a fledgling LWV organization headquartered in Muskogee, with Josephine Brown as state president. Brown established eight committees in the state league. In keeping with the nonpartisan tradition, she appointed four Republicans and four Democrats as committee chairs. Similar to those of other Oklahoma women's clubs, the committees included American citizenship, protection of women in industry, child welfare, improvement of election laws, unification of laws concerning women's civil status, and social hygiene. Three issues of primary concern to the Oklahoma league were the passage of national legislation for the health care of women and infants during and after childbirth, an eight-hour work day for women, and a state constitutional amendment allowing women to hold state office.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Harlow's Weekly (Oklahoma City), June-December 1920. Ida Husted Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 (New York: Arno, 1969). Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, eds., Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (New York: Routledge, 1993).
Suzanne H. Schrems
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