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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Adele Clark, February 28, 1964. Interview G-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Formation of the League of Women Voters

Clark describes the formation of the League of Women Voters. Clark explains how, although they would not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, the General Assembly gave the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia permission to hold a convention in the state capitol for their last meeting and then for the formation of a state chapter of the League of Women Voters. Clark describes how the organization was conceived of by Carrie Chapman Catt as well as early efforts to organize in Virginia, including her own leadership role in the nascent organization.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Adele Clark, February 28, 1964. Interview G-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ADELE CLARK:
Out of that citizens' committee grew the efforts toward organizing the League of Women Voters in Virginia. It was in September or perhaps early in November that we planned the last meeting of the Equal Suffrage League. Mrs. Maude Wood Park came down to tell us the efforts that were being made to organize a League of Women Voters nationally. And I remember that Mrs. John H. Lewis, Elizabeth Langen Lewis, whom I mentioned in the earlier comments about women who had organized the Suffrage League, was our Vice President. Mrs. Valentine was very ill, and so Mrs. Lewis presided over the last suffrage meeting. It was very interesting to note the change of atmosphere [laughter] in the politicians after we had got the vote. The Governor of Virginia during the last year of our suffrage efforts was Westmoreland Davis, and he really was very much interested in woman's suffrage and probably would have come out and urged the adoption of the ratification of the amendment but for the extraordinarily vicious opposition of most of the political people in Virginia. So I cannot say that Mr. Davis made any right about-face, because he had been very friendly all during the ratification efforts. However, the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor, as well as the Governor, permitted us, of all things, to hold the last convention of the Equal Suffrage League in the Capitol of Virginia. And we met in the House of Delegates and had all of our speakers there. Mrs. Park spoke, and we at that meeting adopted a resolution that we would meet shortly afterward and organize the state League of Women Voters. Now I think it's already in most of the history books how the League of Women Voters came into being, but it may be interesting to note here that the League was the brainchild of Mrs. Catt, and the last convention of the National American Suffrage Association in 1919 had had representatives from both the already enfranchised states and the states which were unenfranchised. I'm sorry to say, as a southerner, that the little black spot on the map of the United States which indicated in all of our propaganda the non-suffrage states, that the South was always pretty black, and some of the other states were speckled and cross-barred, showing that they had municipal suffrage or school suffrage, or white if they had full suffrage. Mrs. Catt had thought that the Suffrage Association would disintegrate after almost three-fourths of the states had already obtained suffrage statewise. So she thought of forming a League of Women Voters, and at the last national convention of the Suffrage Association there were two houses, the Enfranchised House and the Unenfranchised House. The delegates from Virginia—I'm sorry to say I was not one of them—of course sat in the lower house of the unenfranchised. But they came back with all of the principles of the League of Women Voters. So as a question of sentiment, we decided to organize the League of Women Voters as near as possible to the anniversary of the formation of the Equal Suffrage League. And the League was organized in the Capitol of Virginia in November, 1920, almost on the date that the Suffrage League had been organized in 1909. Again we were allowed to meet in the Capitol, and the League of Women Voters was organized in the Senate of Virginia. We had a number of very distinguished men speakers as well as women speakers, and one of the first things we did was to decide to elect Mrs. Valentine as Honorary President of the League. She was always a woman of quite delicate health and was very ill at the time. In fact, she did not live till 1921. She was never able to vote, but she was registered as a voter. So she was elected the Honorary President, and I was elected President of the Virginia League, almost again by default because so few people were willing to take it.