89.1 WEMU

In The Public Interest: A Look Back At Some Important League Of Women Voters History

Aug 27, 2018

Susan Wooley from the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU

This week, on "In the Public Interest," our bi-weekly conversation with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, 89.1 WEMU’s Lisa Barry gets the lowdown on some interesting league history from member Susan Wooley.


Susan Wooley, an eleven-year member of the Ann Arbor Area League, is Director of Communications for the organization.   She was a CPA and banker, then spent seven years working for the Huron River Watershed Council.  She long admired the League’s non-partisan commitment to good government, so, after retirement, she joined up to add her voice. 

She explains there is a national League (LWV-US), a state League (LWV-MI) and a local League (LWV-Ann Arbor Area, actually Washtenaw County).  When you join one of these, you become a member of all three.

By the numbers there are:

  • 750+ Leagues in all 50 states
  • 300,000+ members
  • 28 Leagues in Michigan 
  • Ann Arbor Area is really Washtenaw County, plus new units in Lenawee and Livingston that will become independent in two years.
  • Ann Arbor Area membership is over 290 and growing 
  • Membership is in all three levels of the League - join one, you join all.

There are not just women - many members are men.  Voting members are citizens 18 years and over.  Associate members are younger than 18 or non-citizens.

The National League has been involved in past presidential debates. For more information on some of the challenges involved with those, check out debates.org.

The League still directly asks candidates at all levels questions with answers posted online at VOTE411 and holds candidate forums for national, state, and local office.

Founded in Chicago, the league was formed within the National American Women Suffrage Association and composed of organizations in the states where women's suffrage had already been attained.  The league was formally organized in February 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which gave most women the right to vote following a 57-year struggle.  State and local leagues formed at the same time as national and also from regional suffrage groups.  

Initial purpose was to improve the newly enfranchised electorate by providing citizen education and informing voters.  The League was the only women’s group dedicated to the political education of women.  Expectation was that goals would be achieved in 5 years and efforts could wind down.  They were surprised that turnout of women voters was low and there was no “women’s bloc” with common positions. 

Wooley explains the League is financed by member dues, contributions, community, and national finance drives.  She adds their current mission includes:

 Campaign for Making Democracy Work - includes ensuring a free, fair, and accessible electoral system for all eligible voters by focusing on  

  • voting rights
  • improving elections and advocacy for the National Popular Vote Comp,
  • campaign financing/money in politics
  • Redistricting.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu