100 years of empowering voters, defending democracy

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Fran Robertson was celebrated as a 50-year member of the League of Women Voters at the organization's Feb. 10 reception. She was honored with the duties of cutting the celebratory cake. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

On Feb. 14, 1920, in Chicago - six months before the 19th amendment was ratified giving women the right to vote - suffragists of the National American Woman Suffrage Association formed the League of Women Voters (LWV). Their goal was to help the 20 million new voters carry out their responsibilities.

Patricia Felton-Montgomery, president of the LWV Hilton Head-Bluffton Area league, addressed the local group's celebrations on Feb. 10.

"To say that a non-partisan, civic organization has been operating that many years in the name of democracy is certainly something to cheer about," Felton-Montgomery said. On that cue, attendees cheered with applause.

Mayor Lisa Sulka of the Town of Bluffton and Mayor John McCann of the Town of Hilton Head Island read a joint proclamation, and a representative of U.S. Congressman Joe Cunningham offered congratulations to the nonprofit activist grassroots organization for its dedication to the nation.

"For us in our lives, it is even more important what we do in the next 100 years. Some others laid the foundation for us many years ago to participate in a democracy, and unless we do our job for our children, our grandchildren, unknown citizens, there will be no democracy," Felton-Montgomery told the crowd.

She noted a number of achievements made by the LWV in its history, including being instrumental in the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act that provided federal aid for maternal and child care programs; "Know Your Town" public officials campaigns; "Meet the Candidates" - sponsoring candidate forums on television, radio, in person and now streaming online (and winning an Emmy for sponsoring the first one in 1960); influential in passing the Social Security, and Food and Drug acts; endorsing a merit system for selecting government personnel; passage of the ERA; People Powered Fair Maps; and Fair Census 2020.

Today, a statement on its website defines the organization as "a unique, nonpartisan organization that is a recognized force in molding political leaders, shaping public policy, and promoting informed citizen participation at all levels of government."

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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