English

2012 New History
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“Every Issue Is a Woman’s Issue”:
The Feminism of the League of Women Voters, 1960-1974

Yen-Chuan Yu

Institute of European & American Studies, Academia Sincia

There have been several developments in the research on the history of the second American women’s movement since the 1990s. One of the changes is to pay more attention to those women and organizations who did not call themselves feminists. These women usually dealt with multiple oppressions at the same time, such as race, class, and gender. Thus gender was often only one among many issues in their agenda. However, their contribution to the enhancement of American women’s status did not previously receive enough attention from historians of the women’s movement.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) is one such women’s organizations. Although the LWV was directly transformed from the National American Women Suffrage Association in 1920, it had abandoned women’s rights as its primary goal in the 1950s. It called itself an organization of public interest or a women’s voluntary association. Its members committed themselves to the causes of human rights and were concerned with the welfare of all oppressed people. Based on the philosophy of “representative government” and “the responsibility of individual citizens to be active and informed participants in the democratic process,” the LWV continued to work on voter information and citizenship training. In addition, through nonpartisanship, the LWV lobbied aggressively for national and international causes after conducting rigorous study and reaching a consensus. Its motto was “every issue is a woman’s issue.”

This article examines the feminism of the LWV between 1960 and 1974, roughly from the beginning of the second women’s movement through its high point. On the one hand, I compare feminist ideas of the LWV and of the mainstream women’s movement. On the other hand, I examine the agendas and activities of the LWV to understand its feminist stance. Through investigating the content of the League’s feminism, I hope to shed some light on the diversity and complexity of American feminism and its women’s movement. After the introduction, I briefly introduce the history, characteristics, and importance of the League. Then I analyze how the term “feminist” became so problematic to League members, and I introduce two definitions of feminism offered by historians. In the final three sections, I highlight the League’s feminist ideas through examining its changing positions toward the Equal Rights Amendment, its responses and reactions to the women’s movement, and its “human resource” program. Finally, I conclude that the LWV carried on their tradition of social feminism which did not limited their scope to women’s issues only.

 

Keywords: feminism, women’s rights, human rights, the League of Women Voters, American women’s movement