The League celebrates 100 years
The League of Women Voters was founded February 14, 1920, in Chicago, in the wake of Congress passing the 19th Amendment in June 1919, which granted women the right to vote.
Locally, the women’s organization got its start when Ruth Ordway established the Pomona Valley League of Women Voters branch in Claremont in 1938. In 1949 the group renamed itself the League of Women Voters of Claremont.
In 2019 the organization rebranded as The League of Women Voters of Mt. Baldy Area, and to commemorate the 100th birthday of the national body, it is celebrating on Friday, February 14.
The Roaring ‘20s themed gala takes place from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Woman’s Club of Claremont, 343 W. 12th St., with 1920s or cocktail attire suggested. Tickets are $25 to $250 and include food, drinks, live jazz music and a silent auction. They are available at www.my.lwv.org/california/mt-baldy-area.
“Who here loves democracy?” asked Mt. Baldy League board member Amanda Hollis-Brusky. “If you do, you should be spending Valentine’s Day with the League of Women Voters.”
Money raised will go toward voter services, education, action and outreach the Mt. Baldy League will undertake in 2020. The group will be working with local theater groups to stage performances about women’s suffrage; reaching out to local Girl Scout troops to earn a badge to celebrate the centennial and suffrage; and working with the city of Claremont to show movies in the park related to suffrage and women’s rights, among other activities.
Over the years the Mt. Baldy League has taken positions on issues and ballot measures both large and small, always after careful study and methodical, private, nonpartisan debate. The League prides itself on that last bit: It never backs political parties or candidates.
An afternoon spent perusing the League’s Garner House archives revealed all manner of documentation of a Claremont both familiar and long gone.
In the 1950s it took a position on the colorization of margarine. Though the subject was less than earth-shatteringly serious, it was still approached with earnest professionalism.
On the flipside, as far back as the 1940s the local League was hard at work voicing its concerns about the treatment of immigrant children. This is just one subject on which the organization was at the vanguard, and remains so to this day.
It’s membership has included a who’s who of Claremont women, including Claremont’s Diann Ring, 77, who joined in 1973, and has fond memories of her nearly 50 years with the League.
“We all had little babies,” Ms. Ring said of her early days with the group. “This was the first organization where people weren’t talking about diapers or bottles. We were talking about topics of substance. I made most all of my best and most lasting friends through the League of Women Voters.”
Among her proudest moments came in the late-1970s when The Pomona Valley Water District—the precursor to Three Valleys Municipal Water District—put a measure on the ballot to raise rates.
“And they hired the most expensive promotional firm out of Orange County, Butcher-Ford, to run their campaign, and spent so much money,” Ms. Ring said. “They based their campaign on us being in a drought. And a week before the election it started raining like crazy. And [late COURIER publisher] Martin Weinberger put a headline in the COURIER that said, ‘God is on the side of the League of Women Voters.’”
The League prevailed, and the water district eventually changed its name to Three Valleys Municipal, in part due to the negative publicity from the campaign, Ms. Ring contends.
“I have so many memories,” Ms. Ring said. “The seventies and early eighties were active, controversial, and the more active and controversial we became, the more people joined. Action begat action.”
Another longtime League stalwart is Sue Keith, who is “76 years young!” Though she says she can’t recall the exact date, she believes she joined in 1972.
She goes back far enough to be referred to in the COURIER archives—ironically, for a story about the League of Women Voters—as “Mrs. James Keith.” “We’ve come a ways, as you know,” she said.
Ms. Keith’s memories of the water trial were also fond, as were her recollections of the salad days of the seventies and eighties.
“The League has also helped me to grow immensely,” she said. “First of all, to know that I could run for elected office. It helped me to learn non-partisanship, and to learn to be open to new ideas and to stick to my values and principles. It also helped me to learn the value of being involved in the community, and civic responsibility. It can be very helpful to folks who wish to make a difference in their communities, their counties, their state and in their world.”
Like many long established political organizations, nonpartisan or not, from time to time there is a reckoning, where the leadership turns over and the youth takes the reins. The Mt. Baldy League may very well be going through this now.
“They’ve been perceived as an organization of, for better or for worse, old white ladies,” said Claremont resident Rachel Forester, 40, who joined the League about two years ago and is now a board member and the group’s director of sustainability. “Even though they’ve done some really good work. They’ve been out there doing work for voter enfranchisement and voter education for all this time. But they haven’t done the good work of recruiting members and always touting their achievements. And in recent years they have a new general president in California to acknowledge that it’s important that we bring in new members, not just for the state, but for the sake of making sure that this organization speaks to the generation and the needs of our democracy.”
Ms. Keith said she was eager to see the results of the upcoming US Census, which the League is actively promoting and supporting.
“We’ve always tried to be inclusionary,” Ms. Keith said. “I welcome, and I think it would be wonderful, if the League reflected the demographics of our region, and that doesn’t just include Claremont.”
In the wake of the surprising 2016 presidential election, the board of the League reached out to Ms. Hollis-Brusky, 39, an associate professor of politics at Pomona College, as well as several of her friends.
“I think there was an acknowledgement that there was a new crop of women who were anxious to engage, and the League really jumped on that,” Ms. Hollis-Brusky said.
She was recruited onto the board straight away, and has since facilitated the arrival of about a half-dozen other new, younger members to the local organization’s governing body.
She talked about the differences between the League and other activist organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The League does do advocacy, but it also does education,” she said. “And that taps into my longstanding love of and involvement in education. I believe in education as transformative, not only K-12 and higher education, but also thinking about civic education as transformative.
“That’s the element that I think is really different for those of us who, in the wake of 2016, want to do things, and want to get results and want to get things done, but also want to hit the pause button and realize that half of what the League does is actually education. It’s a different mission than just advocacy. It does both.”
So as the Mt. Baldy League gears up for a year of advocacy and education, it will first pause to celebrate its parent organization’s 100 years of work in enfranchising women in America.
“We’re hoping that it will really energize everyone, especially leading up to the 2020 election,” Ms. Hollis-Brusky said.
For information about the Roaring ‘20s party, go to www.my.lwv.org/california/mt-baldy-area, call (909) 624-9457, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.