Making Democracy Work

History of the Arlington League

Anniversary Celebrations

90th Birthday

Ann Ross _ Elizabeth Weihe _ Alice Sufit _ RB Neustadt _ Dorothy Nieweg

50 Year Members

February 21, 2010

Barb Sherrill and I (Mary Finger) recently had the distinct pleasure of visiting and interviewing the five distinguished women who are our 50 year members.

All five joined as young mothers searching for intellectual stimulation and a break from the sandbox. The League of Women Voters and the Arlington community at large have greatly benefitted from their dedication to good and informed government.

Ann Ross

Ann came to Arlington from Iowa as she and her husband looked for somewhere warm after the War. Ann joined the League in November, 1946, which would have been when Arlington and Alexandria still were one provisional league. The leagues split into two in 1947. Martha Wildhack, whose granddaughter Betsy, is a member here now, was Ann's special league friend and mentor. Ann says she did not have any particular issue that she worked on, but when the League said study something she did.

Her impression early on was that the AAUW members were the "old gals" and the League members were young educated women who were mostly at home with children.

Her children were in high school during the integration time and Ann remembers the Rockwell brown shirts coming to some of the meetings. Their presence frightened the adults much more than the children. She credits football with easing the transition to integration at W & L since the football team started winning.

Ann later went back to library school at Catholic University and worked at the DC public library.

Ann remarked that to her the League's unique contribution is that it has been a leader in addressing issues. The League studies frequently brought in other groups or individuals who then would expand on the League groundwork and continue work on the issue.

Elizabeth Weihe

Elizabeth moved to Arlington in 1946 from Dayton, Ohio with her husband and three children. A neighbor knocked on her door and introduced herself and the League of Women Voters to Elizabeth. Elizabeth joined in January of 1949. She became International Affairs chairman in 1950 and as part of a UN study took an integrated group of high schoolers to NYC. She was president in 1954 during the Virginia integration struggles. Elizabeth was quite surprised at how difficult the integration effort became. When the Virginia Attorney general declared that all meetings were to be segregated, the League challenged the ruling at a Candidate's meeting. Several of the League members were told to always carry bail money in their purses.

Elizabeth's closest friends at this time will be familiar to those of us of a certain age: Theda Henle, Mary Marshall, Myra Kahn and Ellen Bozman. Once four of the leaguers were at a county board meeting and were denied the right to speak since they were "all communists." Mary Marshall laughed, Theda Henle was hurt, Ellen Bozman got sick and Elizabeth got mad.

During this early period there were 300 members of the Arlington league served by eight units. Members became particularly close to their home unit groups.

Although we think of education and integration as all encompassing issues of the time, Elizabeth remembers planning as almost as time consuming. It was a period of "when the League talked, the County Board listened." She also remembers wearing hat and gloves when going to testify before the General Assembly.

Eventually Elizabeth turned her efforts toward the Virginia state league where she was instrumental in organizing new local leagues.

Elizabeth still reads every word of every League publication. She likens her League experience to going to graduate school. After attending more than 200 meetings in her League capacities, she must have a PhD.

Alice Sufit

Alice joined in February of 1951 when her children were very little. In fact when she was asked to be president in 1960, her first response was "I'll do it, but you know I am pregnant." Later in her term (presidental and pregnacy) she was at a county board meeting with Elizabeth Weihe, Theda Henle and others. Joe Fisher made some funny remark. They all got to laughing and Alice went into labor that evening and her fourth child was born. (I learned at the birthday celebration that the little girl child was given an honorary League membership.)

In the 1970's Alice served on the Virginia state board and, with Anne Clare,she worked on many revisions of the Your Virginia Government publication.

Alice answered the Arlington League's call again in 1997 when she served three years as co-president with Beth Cogswell. She graciously hosted board meetings at her house and on the big screen porch when weather permitted. Beth particularly remembers the little dishes of sweets that always sat in easy reach.

Alice went on to teach American history and Social Studies at Wakefield high school.

RB Neustadt

RB was an editor for the precursor of USIA in New York during the war. After the war she moved to Alexandria and she started her League career as president of the Alexandria league, 1959-1960. She moved to Arlington with her family because of the quality of the schools and the existence of public kindergarten. She joined the Arlington league in May of 1960.

RB served as state environmental chair and then Virginia state president from 1971 to 1975. When the Virginia league wanted to join with leagues in Maryland and DC to study the Chesapeake Bay, they had to get special permission from National to do a joint study. This may have been the very beginning of NCA.

During the mid 80s Mary Margaret Whipple suggested that RB become a lobbyist to the Virginia General Assembly for English as a Second Language representing Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church school boards. She even took up residence for awhile at the elegant Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

RB's passion has been watching the legislative process in action. She never tired of attending County Board and General Assembly meetings. She feels it is vitally important for the League to follow state and local legislative issues.

Dorothy Nieweg

Joining Arlington in October of 1960, Dorothy is the newest member of the 50 year club. She admits that she doesnít count the several years during the fifty's when she was a League member in California where she was a Navy wife.

Dorothy has served the Arlington League and the Virginia state league in many capacities. Her focus over the years has been election laws and voter service.

Anyone who has attended an Arlington annual meeting in the last some several years has probably been impressed by her expertise as parliamentarian and those meetings always run smoothly under her guidance.

Dorothy was a part of LWVUS members' services starting in 1981. She later moved to part time and then volunteer status at the national office. She has been instrumental in archiving debate and convention materials at National. Her involvement with the National conventions spurred husband Elroy to join so he could usher at the conventions and be a part of what she was doing.

In Arlington Dorothy was Officer of Election for a total of 25 primary and general elections.

Of all the studies in which Dorothy took part, she remembers the right to privacy as being the most heated and difficult.

For Dorothy, the League of Women Voters has been a voice for moderation, balance and thoroughness. She expresses concern for the future of the League, but then is encouraged when she goes to meetings of other groups and sees how well the old fashioned structured meetings of the League compare.

These five women with their charm, wit, insight and dedication have been instrumental in the development of the Arlington League of Women Voters as well as the Virginia and National leagues. We honor them, not just for their longevity in the league, but for their example of the essence of the League of Women Voters.


From the Start...

Presentations by League Members Beth Cogswell and Kristin Goss

Welcome to all the members and guests of the League of Women Voters of Arlington. Thank you, Eileen, and your board for providing us with this opportunity to celebrate.

Kristin Goss and I are so proud to be members of The League of Women Voters and to be here to celebrate her 85th birthday. Over the past few weeks, we have spoken to 15 former presidents of the Arlington League and asked them to recall the accomplishments of our organization during their terms in office. There is so much to celebrate. We are an organization of strong women and men who look around, see work that needs to be done, grab a PC, and march forward.

We stand on the shoulders of great Americans, progressive thinkers and reformers, who paved the way in the quest for the involvement of all citizens in the workings of our democracy: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr. With deep roots in the anti-slavery movement " the peace movement " and the civil rights movement these early leaders brought us from the plantations and factories of 19th century America to the backrooms and boardrooms of the 21st century.

Democracy is hard. I heard myself telling a child on Friday, when he was near tears over the complexity of weaving a little basket, that the really good things in life are worth working and struggling for. That's true in our homes, in our schools, and in our communities. I look around me and I see many of the women who for many decades have been working hard for good things in Arlington.

From the early days, Arlington Leaguers have been in the forefront of recognizing and solving community problems. We were there to pick up the pieces when the League of Nations failed, and then again when the United Nations was created. Elizabeth Weihe joined around that time and she remembers that her first task was to chair a committee on international affairs. Let's take a moment to thank god for committee chairs!

We were there again 50 years later when Arlington came under brutal attack, and the United States launched an all-encompassing war on terrorism. The prosecution of that war has raised serious questions about our nation's commitment to multilateralism, to civil liberties, and to open government, all traditional League positions. Bonnie Franklin remembered proudly that we, in Arlington, joined with other organizations to examine the Patriot Act and speak out for civil liberties. We must remember, in the words of Sonja Elmer, that we were founded by leaders of the peace movement and that we must cling to our roles as kinder, gentler leaders.

1950s and beyond

We were there for public schools. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Arlington League was concerned about ensuring that all children - black and white - receive a quality education, on an equal basis. Later we were concerned about making sure that the process of consolidation was fair and equitable. We've spoken for such wide ranging topics as a strong curriculum, career education, and technological support for every Arlington student. Today, as Mary Kay Parker notes, the League needs to continue to speak out to insure that, in fact, No Child is Left Behind.

We were there for the planning and construction of Metro. I love the image of Mary Kay in hard hat ( always in shocking pink in my mind ) inspecting the newly dug, deep underground caverns for Metro. The Metro and I-66 were on the League's agenda 30 years ago, and we suspect they will be on the League's agenda 30 years from now! Reflecting on the issues that dominated her presidency in the early 1970s, Mary Kay said,

They are the same issues as today. Lord, they never go away!

We were there for integration of public spaces and meetings. Listen to this story by Elizabeth Weihe.

I was president when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided. The League had never had a segregated meeting of any kind. Theda Henle followed me as president. I was still quite active particularly during the massive resistance under the Byrd machine. The General Assembly decreed that all public meetings in the state had to be segregated. The League was just not going to accept this. We tried everything we could think of, but finally decided to challenge the decision at a Candidate's Meeting. The League was very influential and conducted all of the Candidate's Meetings then. There literally was a line at the school waiting to get into the auditorium. Ellen Bozman was Voters Service Chair. A little Quaker, Faith Bissell, agreed to sit in the designated black section. Most people were afraid to break the law. We called Howard University and two professors came out and sat in the white section. Ellen Bozman, going through thoroughly staged motions, came down to this little white woman and asked her if she would be kind enough to move to the white section. Faith refused. The police arrested her. Ed Campbell took her case and lost it because it couldn't be proven that Faith was 100 percent white. The case was dropped but the law was successfully challenged.

We were there for the civil rights marches of the 1960s, ahead of the community and even the national League in our support for the extension of rights to people of color and people of poverty. Ellen Bozman recalled a meeting, scheduled for November 23, 1963 where Patricia Roberts Harris, Howard Law Professor and later Secretary of HUD, was the guest speaker. The meeting was rescheduled for the following week. Joan Allen recalled our controversial support for the Poor People's in March in 1968, following King's assassination.

Today the League must uphold its tradition of incorporating more and more people into democratic citizenship. That was why the League of Women Voters - of newly enfranchised women voters - was founded, after all. Today, in the words of Barbara Sherrill and other presidents, the League must continue to reach out to immigrants, racial minorities, young people, and others who feel disconnected from, or are seeking a role in, American democracy. top

We've always been there for the good government issues. In the 1950s we served on commissions that developed the master land use plan of Arlington: the same master plan that is updated annually and that guides today's decisions for development in Arlington. Thanks to this plan, jurisdictions around the region look to little old, 26-square-mile Arlington as the regional leader in smart growth. Forty years later, as Anne Clare recalled, we were there to reexamine the effectiveness of Arlington county commissions all the while supporting the proud tradition of community involvement in Arlington.

We were there for the environment, speaking out for monitoring e-coli in Four Mile Run, for measuring run-off in increasingly-paved-over Arlington, for supporting stronger, equitable, more efficient public transit. Let's take another moment to thank god for devoted, enthusiastic, patient committee members.

We are there now supporting affordable housing initiatives, an adequate and healthy water supply, pedestrian safety, money for parks and libraries and schools. And of course we are the organization that gave birth to the Get out the Vote campaigns.

Democracy isn't always glamorous. Our founders set high standards for us. It's not enough to have opinions. Don't we all have a lot of them? Ironically, in the age of information this seems to be even more of a challenge. Perhaps it's the piles of information, perhaps it's a paucity of time. But no matter the cause, the principle of study ! then advocate remains.

One final thanks. No president does this job alone. She depends on the program and administrative vice presidents, the voters service chair, the membership chair, the Bulletin editor, the secretary and countless ad hoc committees to do the lofty and the mundane work of the League.

Over the years we have trained ourselves to take scientific polls, to set up registration booths, to supervise elections, to sit on commissions and boards, to work on budgets, to pore over endless documents. It's hard, often tedious work, but imperative if we are to fulfill the dreams of our founders: that we be an army of informed citizens in quest of an informed electorate.

We in this room can do this thing ! Let us do it, said Carrie Chapman Catt in 1921.