The League of Women Voters, founded as an outgrowth of the women’s suffrage movement and the passage of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote, continues today as one of our country’s oldest and strongest nonpartisan citizens’ organizations. As the League celebrates its 100th birthday, its commitment remains the same: to empower all eligible voters to register, vote and engage in the hands-on improvement of their local, state, and national government.
Membership in the LWV Montgomery County carries with it membership in the LWV-US and the LWV-MD, all of which share the same 1920 birthday and the same goals for citizen involvement and good government. Learn more about the League of Women Voters’ Mission and about our local League’s activities in our newsletter, Newsletter: Montgomery Voter.
During the 100 year history of the Montgomery County League, many women have worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the League's mission. Here are some of their stories.
Our Stories: LWVMC Historical Profiles
#1. Lavinia Engle
"Some of those sessions in Congress were really delightful. I think it too bad in history that we always, or sometimes, stick to the factual data and you miss some of the colorful and delightful episodes that went through it."
Lavinia Engle made this comment in January of 1971. She was doing the first of five interviews for the Marie Bennett Library of Local History, part of a joint effort by the LWV of Montgomery County and the Department of Public Libraries. Lavinia's interviews are part of a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes and lost history that help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the League and of women's suffrage.
Lavinia was recruited as a field secretary for the National Suffrage Association when she was fresh out of college in 1912. She and Susan B. Anthony testified before Congress on behalf of the suffrage movement. "The suffrage campaign had a sense of—a profound sense of values," Lavinia told the interviewer, "It was never a dour campaign. It was never bitter. There were no attacks. Dr. [Anna Howard] Shaw said to me once when I was in my early stages giving women's suffrage speeches throughout the country, 'Lavinia, never try to convince a person that he or she should come to your point of view. Find a point on which you mutually agree and then move the point." Shaw was a physician, a leader in the suffrage movement, and the first ordained female Methodist minister in the U.S.
That was a lesson Lavinia took to heart not only during her time working to win the vote for women, but also when she moved on to her work with the League. As it became clear that the suffrage movement would be eventually successful, she says discussion at the national conventions would often turn to "what we will do when the Amendment was ratified."
Lavinia and her colleagues decided to create a League of Women Voters, in which women could teach each other "the things they needed to know [how] to be effective citizens, and that this organization should be non-partisan, but should encourage women to go into the political parties and work."
At the final convention in Chicago in 1920, the National American Woman's Suffrage Association decided to turn over its assets to the new League of Women Voters, totaling well over half a million dollars. Lavinia's interview is filled with stories that reflect both the stubborn determination of these women and their sense of humor, things she learned while fighting to win the vote for herself and her sisters around the nation.
It's important to remember, especially as the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage approaches, that the League inherited more than financial assets from the suffrage movement. We were also bequeathed decades of organizational experience and sheer grit. Many women didn't end their activism when the 19th Amendment was ratified in August of 1920, they simply joined their local League office and continued to advocate for civil rights.
Lavinia clearly felt the influence of those who had gone before her. In her interview, she describes one of the first meetings she attended, when her mother (also named Lavinia) took her to a suffrage convention in Baltimore. Little Lavinia was seven or eight at the time. "My mother took me up to the chair in which [Susan B. Anthony] was sitting and said to her, 'Aunt Susan,' as they all called her, 'This is my daughter, Lavinia.'
And [Susan] said, 'Oh, another Lavinia!' and reached out and drew me over to her and said, 'And you'll be another Lavinia who campaigned for woman's suffrage.' And I said, 'Oh yes, Aunt Susan, I will.' And she patted me on the head and laughed, and my mother said, 'Well, I'll raise her up to the faith, Aunt Susan.'"
Lavinia Engle kept the faith until her death in 1979, first in the suffrage movement, and then during her nearly 60 years working for the League of Women Voters.