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.
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.
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.
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.