Making Democracy Work

History of the League

The League of Women Voters started after women got the right to vote.

Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History suffragettes demonstrating

The New Castle County League

1956 Dodge La Femme fender
To put this in perspective, the 1950's were the era of tail fins, poodle skirts and happy post-war housewifery (think gin gimlets and 'hostess aprons')

In 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower replaced Harry Truman as President, polio was epidemic in the US, a thermonuclear bomb test was run in the Marshall Islands, I Love Lucy was on TV, Singin' in the Rain was in theatres, and Elvis Presley was soon to arrive

League activity in Delaware experienced a hiatus from the 1930's until it reappeared in Delaware in 1952 with the formation of the Newark League. Among the charter members who organized Newark's League was Norma Handloff, who also served as first State League president, and later as mayor of Newark.

The League began in the Wilmington area in the spring of 1953 when one hundred thirty-three members began meeting under the dynamic leadership of Evelyn Lord. Until the following January, the League had provisional status while the requirements of a "know your community" study and an initial finance drive were carried out. The first local study item was housing.

Side note: Evelyn Lord succeeded in politics despite family opposition. "When I was elected a state senator in Delaware a few years later, they wouldn't come and see me sworn in," she said. "They did send me a present, though. It was my grandfather's `Vote NO on Woman Suffrage' button. I give courses in communication, and there's a communication for you."
(source: "Evelyn Lord: Breaking the Glass Ceiling", Feb 2013)

In the late fifties and early sixties, the Leagues turned their attention to county government, and were instrumental in establishing a merit system in the county and later in supporting the reorganization of the county government. Other topics of study were planning, parks and transportation.

Reflecting the changing emphasis of both its studies and the composition of its membership, the Wilmington League became an area League in 1966 - the LWV of Greater Wilmington, and in the seventies the Newark League became the LWV of Greater Newark.

The seventies were marked by a greater emphasis on action to implement League positions. Board members were appointed to coordinate and initiate testimony at public hearings. The Leagues began lobbying for legislation, cooperating with other groups, writing letters to public officials, and provided help implementing the peaceful desegregation of the New Castle County schools after the federal court decision. Also, during this period a long-felt need was met when the Greater Wilmington League and the state League established a joint office and telephone in Wilmington. This provided greater League visibility and continuity, and enlarged our opportunities for Voters Service.

In the eighties new editions of the publications, Wilmington: Know Your City Government and This is Greater Newark, were printed, as emphasis on Voters Service and public information activities continued. The Wilmington League and the state League together produced a video showing how to register to vote and how to use a voting machine. The issue of the lack of affordable housing was still a top priority, as was a deep concern for the environment.

With similar programs and decreasing memberships, it seemed appropriate, after a study of several months, to join the Leagues of Greater Wilmington and Greater Newark. Therefore, in April of 1994 the League of Women Voters of Greater Wilmington and the League of Women Voters of Greater Newark merged to form the League of Women Voters of New Castle County.

In the nineties, we became increasingly aware of the need to prioritize our commitments and manage our volunteer time to the best advantage. Among other issues, health care, pro-choice, campaign finance reform, school libraries, transportation and land use have been added to our areas of study and action.

Early in the 2010 decade we were fortunate enough to still have in our membership four charter members: Susan Burns, Ella Butler, Betty Devine and Adelaide Tinker. (Susan Burns had become a member of the Kendal, PA League.)


LWV of Delaware

The League of Women Voters of Delaware was founded in 1921 with members from Dover, Middletown, Milford, Smyrna, Delmar, Georgetown and Newark. The new state League held its first Convention in 1923; its early activities included voters service, work toward abolition of child labor and support of school construction. However, the League disbanded a few years later, then was reestablished in 1953 with the formation of the Newark and Wilmington Leagues. The Laurel League was formed in 1957 and reorganized as the Sussex County League in 1976. The Dover League, recognized in 1966, became the Kent County League in 2008. The Wilmington and Newark Leagues merged in 1994 to become the New Castle County League.

The League of Women Voters of Delaware (LWVDE) was recognized by the League of Women Voters of the United States at Convention March 29, 1958. Its first study, "An Evaluation of the Financial System of the State of Delaware," resulted in a position announced in April 1961, "Support of measures which promote the needs of a growing state." A study of the fiscal aspects of education resulted in a position favoring equalization of school support and increased funding for public schools. The League's Voter's Guide begun in 1960 was a highly respected pre-election supplement in the News Journal until 1998 when the paper began its own version.

The first version of the Delaware Government book was published in 1976 and after many revisions is now available through the LWVDE website. Since the 1970s, LWVDE and its members have worked effectively on educating the public about candidates and elections and advocating for numerous important legislative changes including open government, equal rights for all, renewable energy, recycling, affordable housing, the improvements in the criminal justice system and the quality of health care.


Carrie Chapman Catt, LWV Founder In her address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) 50th convention in St. Louis, Missouri, President Carrie Chapman Catt proposed the creation of a "league of women voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation."  Women Voters was formed within the NAWSA, composed of the organizations in the states where suffrage had already been attained.

The next year, on February 14, 1920 - six months before the 19th amendment to the Constitution was ratified - the League was formally organized in Chicago as the national League of Women Voters. Catt described the purpose of the new organization:

    "The League of Women Voters is not to dissolve any present organization but to unite all existing organizations of women who believe in its principles.  It is not to lure women from partisanship but to combine them in an effort for legislation which will protect coming movements, which we cannot even foretell, from suffering the untoward conditions which have hindered for so long the coming of equal suffrage.  Are the women of the United States big enough to see their opportunity?"

Maud Wood Park became the first national president of the League and thus the first League leader to rise to the challenge. She had steered the women's suffrage amendment through Congress in the last two years before ratification and liked nothing better than legislative work. From the very beginning, however, it was apparent that the legislative goals of the League were not exclusively focused on women's issues and that citizen education aimed at all of the electorate was in order.

Since its inception, the League has helped millions of women and men become informed participants in government. In fact, the first league convention voted 69 separate items as statements of principle and recommendations for legislation. Among them were protection for women and children, right of working women, food supply and demand, social hygiene, the legal status of women, and American citizenship.The League's first major national legislative success was the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act providing federal aid for maternal and child care programs.  In the 1930's, League members worked successfully for enactment of the Social Security and Food and Drug Acts. Due at least in part to League efforts, legislation passed in 1938 and 1940 removed hundreds of federal jobs from the spoils system and placed them under Civil Service.

During the postwar period, the League helped lead the effort to establish the United Nations and to ensure U.S. Participation. The League was one of the first organizations in the country officially recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization; it still maintains official observer status today.

See also League History from the League of Women Voters of the US.