The League of Women Voters is celebrating its 100th anniversary, having been founded after the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women their right to vote. Tennessee was the last state to ratify the amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, due to the tiebreaking vote of one Harry T. Burn, acting on the advice of his mother. It was officially adopted on Aug. 26, 1920, and the work of the League of Women Voters began: educating voters about the process of voting and about the candidates and issues.
We have seen many changes over the past 100 years. Few women had access to higher education; now over 50% of college graduates are women. When women married, they took their husbands’ names, but they lost their right to own property, manage business, and could not have their own bank account or, later, a credit card without the signature of their husbands. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974.
During wartime, women ran the farms, worked in industry and continued to manage the household and raise the children. After World War II, many women were expected to return to their previous roles of homemaker and mother and not work outside the home. It took a second wave of feminism to break down some of these social barriers.
Women entered politics. Jeannette Rankin was the first woman to serve in Congress, elected in 1917 from Montana and serving only one term. Nellie Taylor Ross was the first female governor, serving from 1925-27 in Wyoming. Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968 and served until 1983. Today women currently hold 25% of the Senate seats and 23% of the House of Representative seats. Women make up 50.9% of the U.S. population, as of 2019.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization with over 500,000 members and supporters today, including men since 1974. So, as we celebrate our 100 years, the League of Women Voters continues its mission of civic engagement, encouraging voters to become informed about the candidates and issues and to vote.