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Every Woman at the Polls
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When Emily Taft (later known as Emily Taft Douglas, United States Representative at Large (Illinois), 1945-1947), visited a Ravinia book club in 1928 on behalf of the Illinois League of Women Voters, she accomplished her goal to organize a local branch league: "A meeting was held in the Kindergarten room of the Lincoln School, Friday, March 30, 1928 at 3PM to organize a Highland Park branch of the League of Women Voters." (Image : Minutes book, 1928-1933).
Established in 1920, the League of Women Voters evolved from the National Woman's Party and National American Woman Suffrage Association after the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted women the right to vote. The Illinois branch formed soon after.
Interestingly, according to the Chicago Tribune, the League's (national) Board of Directors held a meeting at the Moraine Hotel in Highland Park, December 1927. The presentation was on the legal status of women. One of the League's first advocacy achievements was the Cable Act of 1922, also known Married Women's Independent Nationality Act, ensuring American Women remained citizens regardless of their marital status or spouse's nationality.
From its inception, the League of Highland Park promoted and enabled voter registration and civic responsibility. In 1956, the Highland Park League participated in a voter registration competition that registered 95% of eligible Highland Park voters with 93.9% (12,210 voters) of those exercising their right to vote at the next election. (Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1956.) More than 600 local League members and Girl Scouts canvassed the City, visiting every address at least once.
The Highland Park League's early years witnessed the promotion of civil dialogue and advocacy through educational events. In 1934, more than 1000 people attended Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins's talk at the Elm Place School auditorium on affordable housing. A talk by Secretary of Commerce Henry Hopkins on the New Deal was one of many other talks on the Depression sponsored by the League in the 1930s.
The Highland Park League led the efforts to replace to establish City Manager form of government in Highland Park, replacing the Commission system in place since the early 20th century. The populace approved this change by a large majority, 3754-181, leading to the hiring of Highland Park's first City Manager, Ralph Snyder in 1954.
A study of the Highland Park Public Library noted the local League's strong participation in the public sphere, "Organized groups such as the League of Women Voters are constantly looking for ways and means of resolving local issues." (Public library service in Highland Park, Illinois; a limited survey and a suggested program for development, 1958).
In 1961, the local League led efforts to ensure funding for purchasing additional public park land when a voter referendum approved bonds in the amount of $480,000 ($4,019,661.74 in 2018 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) to purchase additional land, including parts of the Prairie Wolf Slough.
Manifold other examples abound, including school district referendums and local government efficiency initiatives and education. The League of Women Voters of Highland Park Highwood are currently celebrating their 90th anniversary. The organization recently donated their records to the Archives.