The League of Women Voters of Georgia, headquartered in Atlanta, describes itself as a “nonpartisan political organization” and has a long history of educating voters, promoting involvement in the political system, and advocating for equality and fairness in Georgia government. To accomplish its goals, the League works to provide voters with the resources necessary to make educated decisions by publishing Georgia Government, Citizen’s Handbook, and by reporting on current legislative news. The League also lobbies for issues it deems important to all Georgia voters and advocates for open and responsible government and for smart spending.
The League of Women Voters of Georgia was born out of the woman suffrage movement, in which women around the country fought for the right to vote in local, state, and national elections. In February 1920, at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Chicago, Illinois, Carrie Chapman Catt founded the national League of Women Voters. Two months later, on April 3, 1920, many of the state’s suffrage parties merged to form the League of Women Voters of Georgia during a meeting held in the home of Emily C. MacDougald, a prominent Atlanta suffragist and former president of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia. The League’s first president was Annie G. Wright of Augusta, a major figure in the state’s suffrage movement.
Having secured their voting rights, suffragists knew that their next step must be educating women about the political process to ensure that they used their new rights properly, made informed decisions when voting, and could advocate for their own political beliefs. By holding citizenship schools and setting up voter registration booths, the League served as a base for advocacy and grassroots organization and gave women a voice in state politics at a time when men held the positions of power in political parties and the elected positions in government.
Throughout the twentieth century, the League worked to ensure that Georgia citizens had all the opportunities and freedoms granted to them by the state and federal governments. The lobbying efforts of the League began in the 1920s, when state leagues joined the national League of Women Voters to fight for child labor laws and to support the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921, which provided funding for maternity and child care. The Georgia League also fought to reform the prison system and for home rule, which allowed local governments more power over their municipalities.
In the 1930s, the League dealt with more local issues, such as the secret ballot and unemployment compensation, and members also lobbied Georgia governor E. D. Rivers to lend state support for a child labor amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment did not pass, so the League turned its attention to supporting legislation that would benefit child laborers by shortening their workweeks. In 1945 the League advocated for and helped win the abolition of the poll tax.
The League also tackled election reform and the county unit system, a complicated election system in Georgia that gave more power to the rural, less-populated counties of Georgia than to the urban, densely populated areas. The League, steadfast in its advocacy for a true representative democracy, joined the fight against the county unit system in order to restore equality to Georgia’s election system. In 1952, led by president Frances Pauley, the League was victorious in its attempt to defeat an amendment that would have institutionalized the county-unit system in Georgia. (It was not until 1962, however, that the system was ruled invalid and all votes in Georgia were counted equally.)
Advocacy of Equality
The issue of school desegregation dominated the League’s efforts in the 1950s. While not taking a position on the validity of segregation, the League worked to ensure that all Georgia students received an equal-opportunity, free education. League president Pauley testified against a legislative bill that would make all Georgia schools private and that could, therefore, make race an eligibility of admission. After the bill passed, the League went on to support two sections of the Sibley Commission report, which found that it was impractical to have statewide private schools and recommended parental freedom of choice and state-funded tuition grants if parents wished to remove their children from integrated schools. The League did not support tuition grants, but it did support the choice of students to voluntarily attend integrated schools. The League continued to fight discrimination by supporting the national Voting Rights Act of 1965 and working to ensure equal access to public accommodations.
In the 1970s the League participated in efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which sought to ensure that women and men had equal rights under the law. Even though the League lobbied for its passage by organizing marches, reaching out to elected officials, and staging boycotts, the ERA never received the full support of Georgia politicians. Since the 1970s the League has been active in campaigning for the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (also known as the “Motor Voter Act”), which provides the opportunity for citizens to register to vote while obtaining a driver’s license, and the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which provides funds for states to replace outdated voting machines. The League continues to focus its attention on issues of equality surrounding access to health care, quality public education, environmental protection, and election reform for safe, fair elections.