One benefit of League membership is the chance to be a part of the organization's long, rich history of protecting voter rights, engaging communities through education and outreach, and the progress made through advocacy. As part of my tenure as President of the League of Women Voters St. Paul, I want to highlight some of the fantastic stories from our local league.
Nick Harper, a newly elected board member, spent a significant amount of time researching our local league story. Nick read old Voters, rifled through a seemingly endless number of digital files, and topped the research off with a trip to the Minnesota Historical Society. The product that came of his hard work is a fantastic brief history of the League of Women Voters St. Paul. Read the narrative below.
In 1868, a recommendation to amend the Minnesota constitution by striking the word “male” as a requisite for holding office reached the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. The bill was met with laughter and immediately tabled by the men of the House. It wasn’t until 1875 that Minnesotan women were allowed to vote in any capacity, but only in local school elections. And it took until 1897 before Minnesotan women were allowed to vote in library elections and hold library offices. Progress was far too slow, and in response, St. Paul women began to form women’s interests groups such as the Ramsey County Suffrage Association and the Woman’s Welfare League of St. Paul, predecessors of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of St. Paul.
On March 24, 1919, the National American Woman Suffrage Association met in St. Louis, Missouri, at which Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the Association, called upon the attendees to “raise up a league of women voters.” The same day, Minnesota enacted legislation to allow women to vote in presidential elections. Responding to the need to educate the expanding electorate in Minnesota, Cornelia Lusk and Jane Burr founded the Ramsey County League of Women Voters in November 1919.
During the ’20s and ’30s, the League held day-long schools to instruct voters on the mechanics, history, and value of voting. In 1947, the Ramsey County League of Women Voters closed its doors, and a large portion of its membership became the League of Women Voters of St. Paul. In 1948, LWV St. Paul published “You are the Government” which sold over 17,000 copies its first year. LWV St. Paul published similar documents for decades, including the most recent version, “Guide to Government” in 2013. During the ’50s, LWV St. Paul published several other pamphlets and successfully lobbied for fair employment practices to become state law.
Over the decades, LWV St. Paul has studied several environmental, local governance, and civil and constitutional rights issues and petitioned for changes to policies and practices. LWV St. Paul’s most recent work includes a 2009 Housing Report study observing the causes and effects of mortgage foreclosures, government actions on affordable housing, and recommended policies and practices. LWV St. Paul was also instrumental in the defeat of a voter ID referendum in 2012 that would have disenfranchised hundreds of voters. Today, LWV St. Paul continues to embody civic virtues of engagement and activism. Become part of history by joining the League of Women Voters of St. Paul today!