Oshkosh Equal Suffrage League, 7/4/1912 (copy)

Members of the Oshkosh Equal Suffrage League in their 4th of July float made up with a sail boat. Banners read "Votes for Women" and "We are Rudderless, We Need The Ballot". Identified in the picture are Lilian Clark, Bernice Mocke, Helen West, Gertrude Hull, Josephine Van Slyke, Hester Lancaster, Katherine Forward, Jennie Robinson, and Maria Hilton. Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID 5157

Longtime friend Kathy McElroy sent a short, succinct email the other day that read:

"Hi Dave -- Good God, on a morning local news show today, around 6 a.m., they used this phrase in the reporting on abortion: 'Left-leaning League of Women Voters ... ' What? The LWV centrist 'neutral' material is left leaning? Does that make the Klan centrist? Could someone look into this, ask them what the hell?"

Unfortunately, I couldn't track down what station and which newscaster referred to the League of Women Voters, but it show how little he or she knows about one of the most revered organizations in American history.

There is nothing left-leaning about the League. Yes, it does jealously guard voting rights and opposes voter suppression tactics like Voter ID and other restrictions, and champions ideas like nonpartisan redistricting of legislative and congressional districts.

But, there's been nothing partisan about the League's efforts. It fought Democrats who tried to suppress the black vote in the south and Republicans and their efforts to make it tougher to vote in the north.

You'll be able to learn about the League and its proud history on Sunday, June 23, on Madison's Capitol Square at noon.

That's when the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the local chapter, the League of Women Voters of Dane County, will co-host a celebration marking the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin's ratification of the 19th Amendment, the one that gave women the right to vote in all elections.

Wisconsin was actually the first state to ratify the amendment in 1919.

"We're proud of the League's role in that achievement and our past 100 years in service to Wisconsin voters," said state president Debra Cronmiller. "Today is no different. The League continues to work in defense of democracy, advocating for every eligible Wisconsin citizen's right to vote, free of undue barriers and discrimination."

The June 23 celebration will include a program hosted by retired Wisconsin Public Radio's Joy Cardin and featuring Republican state Rep. Joan Ballweg of Markesan and Democratic state Rep. Melissa Sargent of Madison. First-person interpreter Rose Stephenson will portray Ripon-born suffragist and founder of the LWV, Carrie Chapman Catt.

After the program at the State Street entrance to the Capitol, the crowd will march around the building in the spirit of those who did so 100 years ago urging the Legislature to ratify women's suffrage. People who attend are encouraged to wear white in honor of those suffragists.

And, of course, there will be League volunteers available to help folks register to vote.

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The League held its first convention in 1920 just as the states were in the midst of their ratification votes. Women had been advocating for voting rights for some 72 years up to that time. One of the League's functions was — and still is — educating people about candidates, their stands and the importance of voting in elections.

It's in that vein that the League pushed for and achieved live presidential debates, the first between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Throughout its history, the League also has been noted for the extensive voters' guide it publishes at election time in which candidates can tell in their own words why voters should back them.

The guide hit a bit of snag this past fall. Apparently because the League has strongly advocated against restrictions like Voter ID and opposed gerrymandered legislative districts, both backed by Republicans in Wisconsin, few Republican candidates participated in the League's questionnaire as if to send a message they didn't like the League's positions.

Lost in it all was that the League hasn't changed its position on these issues during its long history, regardless of which party was in power. After women achieved the vote, the League has gone on to push the civil rights voting act, the campaign for an equal rights amendment and other initiatives that encourage more and easier voting,

But, you can get the full, fact-filled story about the League on the Capitol Square on June 23. Mark the calendar.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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