League of Women Voters celebrates centennial of women's suffrage

Headquarters of the Cleveland Woman Suffrage Party. A constitutional amendment for woman suffrage in Ohio was defeated in 1912.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage and of the founding of the League of Women Voters. The Bay Village Chapter of League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland (LWVGC) will celebrate with a booth at the Bay Village Women’s Club Antique Show on Saturday, March 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, March 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bay High School, 29230 Wolf Road.

Visit the LWV booth to see photographs from the archives and learn more about suffrage and LWV. Information will be available about the activities commemorating these centennials throughout 2020, including an exhibit at the Western Reserve Historical Society titled “Women and Politics” which opens on May 22 and will become part of the permanent Cleveland Begins Here installation. All of your questions will be answered, and a suffragist may even pay a visit while you are there.

After a long struggle, on June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteeing women the right to vote. On June 16, 1919, Ohio became the fifth state to ratify the 19th Amendment. On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and on Aug. 24 the suffrage amendment was certified as law.

While the 19th Amendment was still in the states awaiting final ratification, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) met in Chicago for its 50th convention. Confident that the amendment would soon pass, on Feb. 14, 1920, the membership of the NAWSA dissolved and founded the League of Women Voters of the U.S. as a non-partisan political organization.

In April 1920, the Cleveland LWV was founded. Cleveland reformer Belle Sherwin was elected Cleveland LWV’s first president, and in 1921 she was elected vice president of LWV of the US. She served as the second president of LWV of the US from 1924 to 1934.

In 1920, the League’s first task was to prepare newly enfranchised women to vote intelligently. Under Belle Sherwin’s leadership, the Cleveland LWV pioneered non-partisan candidate questionnaires and voter guides, candidate forums, voter registration and get out the vote drives. These innovative voter services were adopted by Leagues throughout the country and remain the core mission of the LWV. Of course, today the LWV uses a nationwide online voter guide, vote411.org, in addition to printed voter guides in community periodicals like the Observer.

Women were not granted suffrage; they had to fight for it, beginning long before the first Woman Suffrage Convention called by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. After the Seneca Falls convention, women organized all over the country to win suffrage.

Northern Ohio contributed extraordinary leadership to the national suffrage movement. From 1910 until 1920, Cleveland suffragists organized, marched, gave speeches, distributed pamphlets, debated, wrote articles, petitioned, lobbied legislators, and failed many times but never gave up until they achieved suffrage. Then they renewed their commitment to a more perfect democracy and voter empowerment through the LWV. We hope to share their story with you at the antique show and throughout 2020.

susan murnane

historian, legal historian, former tax lawyer, author of Bankruptcy in an Industrial Society: The History of the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio (Akron University Press, 2014)

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 10:01 AM, 03.03.2020