ST. CHARLES – The League of Women Voters is celebrating a century of voting rights and its own formation while making plans for continued civic engagement in the 21st Century.
Congress approved the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1919, with the measure ratified by the states in 1920, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
The LWV of Central Kane County, with nearly 100 members in St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, Sugar Grove and Elburn, is one of the most active chapters in the state, sponsoring numerous candidate forums and voter registration drives every year.
The Central Kane chapter held its annual meeting recently at a St. Charles restaurant, hosting Audra Wilson, executive director of the LWV of Illinois.
With nearly 4,000 members statewide, the Illinois League is headquartered in Chicago on South Michigan Avenue, just a couple blocks from the location where the national League organization was founded on Feb. 14, 1920, at the Congress Hotel.
“Illinois is the League’s flagship,” Wilson told the crowd from the Central Kane group.
The League was formed through the merger of two women’s suffrage organizations that had been campaigning for years to gain women the right to vote.
The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress on June, 4, 1919, with Illinois the first state to ratify the amendment just days later on June 10.
It was not until Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, that women’s voting rights were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Even after nearly a century, the right to vote should not be taken for granted, Wilson told the Central Kane chapter.
Wilson, who is an attorney and a self-described “policy wonk,” worked on Barack Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.
Later, Wilson served as deputy chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, whose 2nd Congressional District covers the south suburbs and a portion of Chicago’s southeast side, before taking the job as the League’s state director about eight months ago.
The Central Kane chapter has three top officers, who effectively serve as co-presidents.
They include Jean Pierce and Llona Steele, both of Geneva, as well as Patti Lackman of Batavia. The three were re-elected at the annual meeting in St. Charles.
“We have just come off a whirlwind season for voter service,” Lackman told the group, noting that the Central Kane chapter hosted two candidate forums just prior to the November 2018 general election and seven forums ahead of last April’s local elections.
League members tend to be an educated lot, with more than 60 percent being college-educated, Wilson said. The League is working to increase the diversity of its membership, she said.
Originally, only women could join the organization, but men have been eligible for membership since 1973.