As last weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the League of Women Voters with a robust celebration hosted by the Falls Church chapter, the league’s local chapter has continued to work up to the deadline to get citizens to register to vote in the March 3 “Super Tuesday” Democratic primary in Virginia.
That deadline is this Monday, Feb. 10, at 5 p.m. Persons can check registration status or register online at vote.virginia.gov or at the City Voter Registrar office at City Hall, 300 Park Avenue.
The LWV student chapter at George Mason High School, the only such chapter in Virginia, has been out in force on the Mason campus this week following participation in the anniversary celebration with the word that one can register if turning 18 anytime before to Nov. 3 general election, and vote in the March 3 primary, as well.
The Falls Church branch of the League of Women Voters commemorated a century of the parent organization’s existence and the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that granted women’s suffrage last Sunday.
Attended by Mayor David Tarter, Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, City Council members Letty Hardi and Phil Duncan and the City’s first woman mayor, Carol DeLong (1980-88), all joined the celebration at the Fall Church Episcopal that included period costume performers from the Victorian Society of Falls Church, a jazz trio, catered table spreads and historical exhibits exploring the struggles of the first women to gain the right to vote in Little City.
The program included a reading by the mayor and council members of the City Council’s Jan. 27 proclamation expressing the City’s appreciation for the FCLWV and honoring four “life members” of the group who have served over 50 years — Betty Allan, Betty Blystone, Doris Doran and Ann McCleary. Students from the George Mason High School League of Women Voters Club (the only Virginia school club affiliated with the League) were applauded as the “future of the league,” by League liaison Bob Crowe and faculty sponsor Pam Mahoney.
Delivering the keynote, the League’s former national executive director, Nancy Tate, highlighted the importance of exploring local history to appreciate the struggles of the first suffragettes. “This is a wonderful celebration,” she declared. “The League came into being before the 19th Amendment was ratified in anticipation and with knowledge of the fact that just having the constitutional right to vote was not enough. You needed to actually go vote and to know something about the issues.” The twin goals of non-partisan issue education and voter registration have served as the pillars of the League’s mission to this day.
The need to persist has also never disappeared. Not until 1952 did Virginia ratify the 19th amendment, a year after the Falls Church League first offices opened. Tate informed the gathering about the 2020 Women Votes Centennial Initiative to educate the public about this year’s commemorations. Following Tate’s talk, the jazz trio struck up “Happy Birthday” to the League and the 19th Amendment, attendees sang appreciatively.
Tarter was called upon to cut the ceremonial cake, where he remarked on FCLWV’s “education of our community, getting voters to turn out for elections, raising key questions, increasing the quality of dialogue and discourse, just a whole wealth of things that are critical for the democratic process.”
For Wendy Frieman and Johanna Barry, the co-presidents of the League, recalling the sacrifices of the women’s suffrage movement serve as an inspiration.
“I think people take for granted the right to vote,” said Barry, “It’s more than just a civic duty. It’s really the heart and soul of this democracy… and the fact that women suffered and died and were tortured to get the vote.” People also don’t realize, said Ms. Frieman “how long it took and how many women and other supporters of the cause died without ever seeing voting rights happen. It was really the pathbreakers that made it possible.” The co-presidents also recalled fondly the early actions of the FCWLV’s ‘Observer Corps’ who would attend all City Council meetings and public hearings wearing a League button “so that officials [knew] someone from the League [was] there and listening and reporting back to the members.”
Hardi added that, as a first generation immigrant, she cherishes the right to vote, remembering her parents’ naturalization ceremony and how much the right has meant to her family. Duncan discussed how the Falls Church League serves as the “heartbeat of [the City’s] progressive instincts” and continues to be a major contributor to Falls Church’s civic and political scene.
For 18-year-old Grace Tarpgaard, the student League of Women Voters club leader at Mason, the right to vote is particularly salient now as she will be casting her very first presidential election vote in November. Her club’s active membership of 8-12 students is working on educating the student body on the key political issues of the day. “Imagining a time when women didn’t have the right to vote,” she said, “is insane for me.” So, to the women who fought for these rights are a true inspiration to her.