On Feb. 14, 1920, six months before the Nineteenth Amendment was completely ratified by the states, the League of Women Voters was founded as a “mighty political experiment” to assist 20 million newly enfranchised American women carry out their rights and responsibilities as voters. In the century since, the League of Women Voters and its local chapters have offered nonpartisan election information, sponsored debates and encouraged all citizens to be active and informed participants in the civic process.
In honor of its centennial, the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed Friday, Feb. 14, 2020 as League of Women Voters Day.
“Women’s voices have been central to many of the most important and groundbreaking movements in our country’s history — the civil rights movement, access to community health and free education,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury as she introduced the resolution. “The League has been an important nonpartisan voice in organizing and empowering women to use their vote to make positive change.”
The League of Women Voters was born from the women’s suffrage movement. At the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s (NAWSA) victory convention, where women gathered to celebrate the anticipated full ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, 2,000 attendees voted to organize the National League of Women Voters. They then decided that NAWSA’s state groups should become nonpartisan state leagues of women voters, serving the same purpose as the national league: to foster education in citizenship and support improved legislation.
Speaking before the Board of Commissioners, League of Women Voters of Portland Board President Debbie Kaye shared, “Oregon women — Portland women — like Abigail Scott Duniway, Hattie Redmond and Effie Simmons played important roles in gaining the vote. Effie Simmons served on the first national board of directors.”
Taking a pause to look up at the dais, Kaye continued: “And look at this elected commission. It’s all women.”
League of Women Voters of Portland’s past president Doreen Binder joined Kaye to read the full proclamation, Both wore suffrage sashes as they spoke.
In a poignant moment, Binder who worked closely with Chair Kafoury and her late mother, former City and County Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury, recalled the relationships that have underscored so much progress. “I want to do this for myself in honor of your mother, Gretchen [Kafoury], who was a great, wonderful woman and a great mentor.”
Board members reciprocated the admiration for the free civic education, voter forums and educational materials the League provides.
Reflecting on the proclamation, Commissioner Lori Stegmann said, “It’s really heartwarming and touching and so incredibly important for women to step into the spotlight and show their leadership. It has really been such an honor and pleasure to serve with my fellow commissioners.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson added, “I’m just so proud that we have the League of Women Voters, especially in this age when there’s so much purposeful action to undermine our democracy and break down our civil institutions.”
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal followed, saying, “I think what you remind us is that democracy is hard work. That we have to show up. We have to learn and we have to invest our time. And the work that you do around getting information out in a time when there’s so much misinformation in the world — I think that’s absolutely critical to our democracy.”
“I love your organization, I love this board so much, and we truly would not be here without you and your work over the past 100 years,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran shared.