This past weekend, women – and men – from across the state celebrated the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters Minnesota, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government.

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The state league was organized on Oct. 29, 1919, just months after women were granted the right to vote, in meetings called by the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Clara Ueland served as the first president of the League of Women Voters Minnesota.

Ueland’s call for the league in 1919 was “raising our standards of living and the safeguarding of our cherished institutions. Together the women of the state must make wise and far seeing plans to the end that our dreams of a democracy, in which men and women shall have an equal voice, must come true.”

Today, more than 2,000 members of local leagues work to carry on Ueland’s legacy by encouraging active participation in the political process, educating citizens on major public issues and influencing public policy through education and advocacy.

“We need to remember the names and faces of these many heroes,” said Joann Brown, a league member for the chapter representing Crystal, New Hope, East Plymouth and Robbinsdale.

In any given year, voters can expect to see their local League of Women Voters chapter in action, whether it’s sponsoring candidate forums or hosting programs to discuss a wide range of public policies.

Despite what the name implies, the league is not made up of only women. It is also open to men, as well as teens ages 16 and above.

One of the main goals is to help voters become informed before they go to the polls and to encourage them to get out and vote.

“It’s really important to provide information that is fact-based,” and encourage people to participate, said Peggy Kvam, president of the Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins chapter

“Everybody needs a voice – that’s what democracy is about,” she said. “You don’t need to be elected to have a voice.”

For some, joining the league has lead them to an even deeper level of participation in government, such was the case with Karen Anderson, who eventually became the first female mayor of Minnetonka.

“I credit the league for being my training ground for learning about local government and building the community base that elected me,” Anderson said, who joined the league in 1968. “The league is a non-partisan organization and does not support candidates, but through league studies and participation on issues, it helped me develop the expertise and credibility to be a viable candidate.”

The League of Women Voters also supports equal rights for all regardless of sex.

“Although women celebrate the right to vote, LWV has been working 100 years to pass the Equal Rights Amendment both nationally and in our state constitution,” said Deborah Price, president of the Wayzata Plymouth Area League of Women Voters.

The Equal Rights Amendment, authored by Alice Paul, one of the leaders in the women suffrage movement in 1923, is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters.

One more state is needed to ratify the federal amendment. Minnesota ratified the federal amendment in 1973 but has not passed the bill for the Minnesota Constitution.

To learn more about the League of Women Voters and how to get involved with a local chapter, visit lwvmn.org.

Crystal, New Hope, East Plymouth and Robbinsdale chapter

Joann Brown of New Hope is a league member for the chapter representing Crystal, New Hope, East Plymouth and Robbinsdale.

Brown said the league is a wonderful organization to join for a person who is new to the area.

“I was looking for friends who would share interests in state and national issues, of which there are many,” Brown said, noting the first study she worked on was related to the financing of schools.

“Many issues are never settled,” and often change over time, she said, such as studies of water quality, financing of state government, the political system and health care.

“I like that league is a local, state and national organization and all levels take issues concerning our welfare very seriously,” Brown said.

As a member celebrating the 100th anniversary, “It is inspiring to reacquaint ourselves with the fortitude and courage of women (and some men) who persuaded state legislatures and then the federal government to extend the right to vote to women,” Brown said. “It needs to be said that because of some states, suffrage was denied to many African American women, and not until the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act, were remedies put in place.”

St. Louis Park chapter

Julie Sweitzer said she joined the St. Louis Park chapter because she places a high value on civic involvement and particularly admires the league’s nonpartisan role in encouraging people to vote.

Sweitzer has helped with planning and implementing the Kids Voting initiative, which organizes mock elections at each of the St. Louis Park School District elementary schools and middle school.

“It’s a great way to help children understand elections and voting, and to develop civic responsibility,” she said. “If we get them used to voting every year in Kids Voting, then we can reasonably anticipate them voting regularly as adults.”

Kids Voting is also a way to encourage youth and their parents to talk about the election and even help assure the adults get out to vote, she said.

Wayzata-Plymouth Area chapter

Deborah Price of Plymouth is the president of the Wayzata Plymouth Area chapter. She joined the group 37 years ago when she was new to the community.

To learn about the candidates on her ballot, Price attended the league-sponsored candidate forum and eventually became a member as a way to learn and have a voice in discussing community, state and national issues.

Her intention to stay informed and work on issues in her communities continues today. Working with members across the state and nationally has been a highlight of being an LWV member, she said.

Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins

Karen Anderson joined the Minnetonka chapter in 1968, wanting to learn more about the community after moving from the Chicago suburbs with her husband.

“I was especially interested in the city’s land-use decisions and was appointed to a group that revised the city’s zoning code,” she said. “When it seemed that the new code was not going to be adopted, I ran for the city council in order to see it through.”

She ran against an incumbent at-large council member and was elected in 1985 and served two terms before being elected the first woman mayor, serving from 1994 to 2006.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@ecm-inc.com

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