Making Democracy Work

History of the League

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

Our Beginnings

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.

Pictures from the Archives of the League of Women Voters

What's In a Name

If all adults are invited to join and there are men members of the League, people sometimes wonder why the name has not been changed. After more than eighty years, the League of Women Voters has a well-earned reputation and prominence among non-partisan reform organizations in the United States. They have garnered the respect of government at every level and of politicians across the United States for fairness and for careful study of issues they support or reject. Though the By-laws were changed in l972 to allow and encourage male members, "all adults," the name has not been changed, given the long history and reputation of the League. Numerous proposals to change the name of the organization have not so far been accepted by the membership.

History of New Hanover & Lower Cape Fear


A Very Brief History


Organizational meeting for the Provisional League of Women occurred on September 20, 1962. Officers elected were:
President: Mrs. George Saffo
1st Vice President: Mrs. Hugh Primrose
2nd Vice President: Mrs. George Alper
Secretary: Mrs. Esso Clemmons
Treasurer: Mrs. Bert Locke
Board Members: Mrs. Carson Taliaferro, Mrs. Herbert Blackburn, Mrs. N.H. Modinos, Mrs. Olin Perritt.
Subsequent meetings were held at the Carolina Savings & Loan Building. The group worked on a survey of New Hanover County, as required for all provisional local leagues.
The group worked on provisions of qualifications to use an absentee ballot, and also participated in the LWV-NC two year study of election laws. Representatives of this chapter also attended the May meeting of the State Council and State Legislative Day. By January, 1963, the provisional chapter had 29 members.

The provisional LWV-NHC sponsored a precinct "walk-through," during which members participated in a door-to-door campaign to explain voting qualifications, in 1963. Its purpose was also to encourage voter registration.
The Wilmington Star-News (November 21, 1963) wrote that precinct registrar had reported a substantial increase in registration over previous years when the books were open. The increase appears to have been the result of League action.
When the chapter published its survey of NHC, the Wilmington Star-News (December 8, 1963) published an account in the women's pages titled, "Feminine Curiosity Produces 40-page Booklet on County." Describing this survey, columnist Al G. Dickson wrote,

Seldom before have we seen such a thorough and impartial collection of governmental information. Every part of the county's government is included and many of the facts will be new to people who have lived their entire lives here.

Formal recognition of full LWV status was announced on February, 1964, at a meeting attended by Mrs. Charles Wanzer of Charlotte, Vice President of LWV-North Carolina.

In March, 1964, LWV-NHC received additional recognition from NC. Sorosis, a venerable local women's organization. This came in the form of an invitation for League President Saffo to participate in a panel discussion with local professional women. Moderator was Miss Shannon Morton, Dean of Women at Wilmington College (later UNCW), and the topic discussed was "Dependability of Women in Public Affairs."
Before its first official year ended, LWV-NHC was recognized for having conducted a Candidates Meeting, entitled, "A Timely Public Service," (Wilmington Star-News, May 24, 1964.) The newspaper applauded the New Hanover County League with the following words:

Its desire is for better government and the group exhibits a passion for impartiality. It does not support or oppose any political party or candidate, but may take a stand on selected governmental issues after a program of intensive study. Second, it is a rare occasion when all the candidates may be presented simultaneously to the public by a totally neutral organization.
With those and other factors in mind, Tuesday nights's gathering is to be recommended to every voter who wishes to cast his ballot on the basis of facts and issues and not personalities and raw politics.

Another innovative activity of this year was an exhibit at the County Fair. The exhibit consisted of a model of a voting machine and members also conducted a "straw poll."

Years 1966-67

In 1966, the League assisted the County Commissioners with the installation of a new registration system. This was managed after initial difficulty in getting the attention of Board of Elections Chairman Otto K. Pridgen.

"We can't even get him to talk to us on the telephone," said one of the League members, as quoted in April 5, 1966, edition of Star-News. "Mr. Pridgen thinks of us as little old ladies in long bloomers," added another member.

The chapter continued to sponsor Candidate Forums and registration drives until 1967, when a Star-News editorial (2/67) cited the League's intended project to update their "Know Your County" survey with information about city government. The editorial "christened the group "The League of Good Government."


In 1967, the scrapbook record of the first LWV-NHC group ends, and no other files have yet come into the hands of this writer.

Many factors contributed to a shut-down of operations in 1967. They are listed as follows.

1. Burn-out of leadership
2. Many members of the original group taking wage-paying jobs that cut into time for community service projects.
3. The Sixties decade of stress and unpredictability affected membership numbers and fund-raising efforts.
4. The headquarters of the railroad line moved away from Wilmington, and caused the local economy to be devastated. Many upper-income families moved away for better job opportunities.
5. The national civil rights movements in the 1960s and 1970s increased the sense of anomie felt by many local residents.


The urge and decision to organize a second provisional LWV-NHC chapter occurred in May of 1972. Fifty some women were present, including a new membership feature + that of a handful of black women. Elected President was Mrs. Daniel (Karen) Gottovi.

Other officers were:
Assistant to President: Rachel Wormington
First Vice-President: Barbara Brooks
Second Vice-President: Connie MacLellan
Secretary: Maryann Maliga
Treasurer: Bessie Funderburg
Board members: Lois Hart, Betty Jo Stevens

The new provisional chapter engaged in several projects and activities, including the re-instigated voters' service work and a School Board Candidates' Forum (10/72). The chapter also resumed work on the City County survey, and published the survey of Wilmington in an issue of the LWV-NHC Bulletin. The group also participated in the local study of a movement to consolidate city and county government; and both sponsored and moderated a January, 1973 forum. This forum focused on pro-con issues involved in the up-coming February, 1973 referendum on the subject.

By the end of its first year, the provisional NHC League had grown to 80 members. St. James Church's Great Hall was used frequently for meetings, but unit meetings were also held at other locations. Membership coffees occurred in September, 1973.


With more members, the number of program interests broadened. In l973-1974 program topics included: a study of NC election laws, campaign spending, education, land use, social service, and participation in the LWV-NC two year study of the state criminal justice system. The revised county Survey was published as a 36 page pamphlet in 1974 and made available to the public at $1.00 apiece.

Full status was again accorded the NHC chapter, this time in April of 1974.

The chapter initiated an active Observer Corps for many local boards and commissions. Some of the League members ran for city council, school board, and county commission. Some elections were won + and members served with distinction. One winner was our former LWV President Gottovi, who serve several years as county commissioner and Chair of the Commissioners before retiring in 1986. Karen has also served on the Coastal Resources Commission, after leading the League's effort to help protect the coast from a variety of hostile environmental forces.
A plaque was awarded our chapter in July, 1984, for organizing and educating the public. It reads:

"The League of Women Voters of New Hanover County has played a key role in involving local citizens in coastal planning and decision-making."


The NHC League has had a continuing problem retaining its workers who have tended to move into public positions that might clash with the non-partisan policy of the League. The constant search for people who could provide group time and energy has drained its strength. Eighteen years after the 1972 reorganization finds our chapter having to limit its activities to the most critical for the community--that of Voter Service. To add to the problem, one third of our members, this year have qualified as voter registrars, thus limiting their efforts as League workers and organizers.

Respectfully yours, Retyped 2009 with some Georgie Smallman, 1990 editorial changes in punctuation, spelling.

  • LWV-NHC HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHTS Did You Know . . . R reorganized League of Women Voters of New Hanover County was granted provisional status in September 1972. 1975 found LWV-NHC supporting the WIC program (women, infants and children supplemental food provision) We received full League status in May 1974. League Issues & Activities 1972 - Consolidation and Land Use Planning 1976 May LWV-NHC joined the Jaycees and Chamber of Commerce to present a workshop at UNCW on "Practical Politics" 1973 - Consensus reached on campaign financing 1973 - Two items for study on state level were taxes and court system 1977 was the year the LWV-NHC urged the New Hanover County Commissioners to accept the responsibility for operating the library and to cooperate with the Wilmington City Council on implementation 1975 - League supported bikeways (local and state levels) from point of view of safety and alternative to gas consumption 1977 - Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) 1980 - Study on state criminal justice system and day care 1980 - League city study was printed 1980 - City of Wilmington adopted subdivision regulations which met with most of League's standards 1980 - League supported incinerator bond issue In 1979 Spencer Rogers, coastal engineer of Marine Resources Center, Fort Fisher, spoke to LWV-NHC on "Beach Erosion and Other Coastal Problems" 1982 LWV-NHC demonstrated use of voting machine at the county fair; our Criminal Justice Committee presented a panel on the Rape Victim Assistance Bill as passed by the General Assembly in 1981; voted to oppose any coal shipping facilities on the east bank of the Cape Fear River which Wilmington City Council put to referendum 1986 LWV-NHC voted to study consolidation of city and county governments 1981 - Human Relations study led League to offer panel discussion on the federal budget and its effects on human relations in New Hanover County 1988 study item and action on impact on New Hanover County of 1985 thoroughfare plan and the recreation and open space plan for the city and county; also studied threats to drinking water quality and quantity and the conflicts of city and county zoning ordinances The number of members at the time of the application for a provisional LWV in New Hanover in 1972 was 37. The number in 1974 increased to 80. 1994 LWV-NHC members participated in local coastal waters field trip; co-sponsored with LWV-Onslow County a town meeting on Health Care Reform at LJNCW In 1976 the LWV supported passage of the Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Ordinance.

By 2000, the newsletter of the League offered an ongoing history for ensuing years. The primary event was a name and boundary change in 2004. The application to the LWV-NC and LWV-US stated:

During the last year, several members of the League living in the three other counties have joined our organization since there is no league in their counties, and have asked that the name of the League reflect the widening locations of its members.
We expect members in each county to encourage others to join but we will have an annual membership drive to invite membership from individuals in each of the counties.
We will try to include members from each county on our Board. We presently have Board members from Brunswick and from Pender Counties as well as New Hanover.
The Board will decide on issues and directions primarily for New Hanover County, but expect that issues in other counties may be endorsed at the request of members from those counties. The governmental elections in the four counties will be pursued (forums, registration and get-out-the-vote), as the members in each county are willing to work.
With Wilmington the center of the region, policies here affect surrounding areas. We also have much in common environmentally with the three other coastal counties.
We expect total membership to increase and we also expect our influence to increase.

The By-laws were updated and approved by the membership and the new name decided upon was LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF THE LOWER CAPE FEAR.