February 14 is most commonly known as Valentine’s Day, a holiday to celebrate romantic love. It is also the birthday of a historically important national institution: the League of Women Voters. This year, the League is celebrating the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in America as well as the League’s founding.
The League of Women Voters was founded on Feb. 14, 1920, to educate women about the rights and responsibilities of voting and how to effectively participate in the democratic process just months ahead of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex.
Originally, only women could join the League, but in 1974 the charter was modified to include men, according to the League of Women Voters’ website at www.lwv.org. Today, the organization describes itself as “a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government” that “influences public policy through education and advocacy” and has members in over 700 communities in all 50 states.
The League of Women Voters of Grand County is marking the League’s centennial with an event in the large meeting room of the Grand County Public Library (257 E. Center St.) on Monday, Feb. 10, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The event will cover state-level legislation relevant to Grand County – and how to stay informed and involved – as well as information on local government efforts. Speakers include the Utah Education Association’s Director of Government Relations and Political Action Chase Clyde; Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann and Councilmember Curtis Wells; and Moab resident Cassie Patterson, who recently took part in coordinating efforts in Grand County to gather signatures in support of a voter referendum on a controversial tax reform bill passed in by the Utah State Legislature in December of 2019. (The tax reform bill has since been repealed.)
McGann said she is looking forward to the event.
“I’m very excited about this,” she told the Moab Sun News. “It’s going to be an active and exciting meeting. I think people will learn a lot.”
McGann said she plans to discuss the planned Utah State University expansion, the effects of the High Density Housing Overlay passed by the County Council to encourage less-expensive housing, as well as desirable changes stemming from ordinance changes around nightly rentals. But, McGann added, she will leave it up to the audience to decide what she talks about, as she will welcome and respond to questions.
McGann noted the relatively short amount of time that women have had the right to vote in America and the substantial impact women have in politics today.
“It’s hard to believe that my mother was born the year that women gained the right to vote,” McGann said, noting that today many local leadership positions are held by women, including the mayors of both Moab and Castle Valley as well as herself in the position of county council chair.
But, she added, she still sees room for improvement and is concerned that younger people may not understand “the sacrifice and effort” it took for women to gain political equality. She stressed the need for continuous political involvement.
League of Women Voters of Grand County President Carey Dabney spoke to the Moab Sun News about the work the League has done locally since its formation in 1984, including consistently hosting a candidate forum ahead of local elections.
She said there are currently about 75 members in the Grand County chapter, both men and women. She emphasized that, while the League is political, it is not partisan – it does not endorse candidates, though it will occasionally take positions on issues. For example, Dabney said, the League of Women Voters of Grand County supported the creation of a study committee to create a recommendation on a new form of government for Grand County after a change in state law made the current form obsolete.
“I think the value of the League lies in that it’s a nonpartisan political organization that is engaged in civil discourse on topics that are relevant to the community,” Dabney said. “Over the years, civil discourse has lost some ground … but the League is committed to nonpartisan community conversations.”
Other upcoming events the League of Women Voters of Grand County has planned include a presentation by the League of Women Voters of Utah on the People Powered Fair Maps Campaign – which aims to create fair political districts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – and a silent auction fundraiser in April.
For more information, check out the League of Women Voters of Grand County’s web page at www.grandcounty.ut.lwvnet.org.