In honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the League of Women Voters, the Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins chapter will host historical exhibit produced by the League of Women Voters of Minnesota. Along with the exhibit, historical items local to the chapter will be on display.
The exhibit will be 4-8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at the historic Cummins-Phipps-Grill House, 13600 Pioneer Trail, Eden Prairie. The display is free and open to the public.
“There will be stand-up panels that go through the history just full of information,” said Peggy Kvam, president of the local chapter. “It will be pretty interesting.”
The league does more than host local candidate forums. Members lobby at the state level, provide guides on becoming a citizen, extensively research agreed-upon topics and more. As a non-partisan organization, the organizers believe everyone should have the ability to be educated and involved.
“We’ve always had candidate forums, the league is big for that,” said Karen Anderson, a member of the local chapter. “That’s what the league has always been known for, is the candidate forums.”
“We do studies on different issues, these are different studies throughout the years on different policy topics,” Kvam said. “We want to help, especially newcomers, become citizens. We’re really interested in everyone having a voice.”
The league began as an organization of female members of voting age, and since has welcomed men and those 16 years or older.
“Originally, it was just women, and now it’s men and women,” Kvam said. “Originally, it was just citizens who were of voting age and now it’s anyone 16 and older. It can be citizens, non-citizens, men and women, we want everyone to be involved.”
In a time before women were widely elected, the league worked to bring issues of concern to the forefront and continued to legitimize female candidates and representation through its standing.
“In those years it was before women were elected,” Anderson said. “Before women ran and didn’t have much credibility in the governmental sector, but the league had standing. We were known as a group that studied the issues, we knew what we were talking about, and that gave us credibility.”
The Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins chapter has been active in the community since 1958. The focus is local, but members have worked on issues at the state level, as well as contributing to national discussions. Joan Growe, who was Minnesota’s Secretary of State from 1975-1999, was a member of the group.
“We were also always looking at our own community and other communities to see that issues were brought up,” said Arlene Nystuen, a chapter board member.
A unique approach that the league takes is reaching a consensus among members before lobbying on an issue. “When we lobby at the capitol, it is on an issue that we have studied, and then we take a consensus, and that’s what we can lobby,” Nystuen said.
“It’s a fairly unique process the league has, we use nationally and at the state level,” Anderson said. “We choose a topic, we study it extensively and often write a massive report about it. Then the members all read and study that and then we take a consensus, we reach an agreement on what our position should be.”
Anderson is a former Minnetonka mayor and council member who served from 1986-2006 with 12 of those years as the first female mayor of the community. What began her involvement in politics was the league.
“I joined the league because my husband and I were from the Chicago area, we knew no one, and I knew I had to get involved in the community in some way,” Anderson said. “Through the league, the league was very well-respected and they would call on league members to be on special committees for the city, and I got put on different land-use committees. The League of Women Voters was my training ground, it taught me about local government and how to run.”
The Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins chapter will host candidate forums for city offices and school board this fall. The forums will be available online and individuals who attend will be able to submit their questions.
“We do questions from the audience, but we also try and sort them out, so they are of different topics,” Nystuen said.
“We try to cover all the topics, we don’t just keep pulling the next one at random, because we want to have a depth of topics,” Kvam said.
Kvam hopes that through these displays, people will know that they can be involved in their government.
“To me, citizens can be a part of how they are governed and to see how the league is involved,” Kvam said. “They can look at these scrapbooks and see all the activities, and you can be involved.”
For more information, visit lwvmeph.org.