The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan education an advocacy organization that grew out of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) following passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Corvallis formed a chapter in the late 1940s and joined an active and effective statewide League.
After a long-fought political battle and several defeats, suffrage activists in Oregon won a 1912 statewide referendum granting women full suffrage rights. As one of fifteen states in which women could vote in all elections, Oregon joined NAWSA’s campaign to win ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which would make woman suffrage a national right. Members of Oregon’s branch of the National Council of Women Voters and the Oregon Equal Suffrage Alliance effectively pressured Governor Ben Olcott to call a special session of the legislature, which duly ratified the amendment. A number of Oregon women attended NAWSA’s “victory convention” in Chicago in February 1920, where Carrie Chapman Catt called for the creation of a woman’s organization that would operate outside of the existing political parties; delegates voted to form a National League of Women Voters to “foster education in citizenship and support improved legislation,” which included a broad agenda covering major progressive issues of the day.
Some Corvallis women were active in the state League in its early decades, and the Corvallis chapter was formed in the late 1940s. A nonpartisan organization, the League advanced voter education and participation and lobbied on a broad range of issues, based on deep and collective study. Despite charges throughout the 1950s and 1960s that it harbored communists, Oregon Leagues defended civil liberties in the midst of the Red Scare and supported state and federal funding for education, fairer tax policies, and elimination of gender discrimination; in the 1970s and 1980s, Oregon’s Leagues continued to promote state funding for education and mental health and began to focus as well on environmental quality, land use policies and conservation. In the 1990s, expanded voter participation (through “motor voter” policies and vote by mail), juvenile justice, and the Oregon Health Plan joined the broad list of issues the League tackled. The Corvallis League has been particularly active in the past thirty years on issues of corrections and juvenile justice (opposing punitive policies aimed at youth offenders and supporting alternatives to incarceration) and on sustainability – in 2010, the Corvallis League became the first in the nation to conduct a study of local food sourcing.
League membership has declined since the 1970s, and a growing proportion of members are retired. Yet the League continues to serve a unique and important role in local and state politics. Its staunch commitment to nonpartisanship, despite taking informed and principled stances on particular issues, lends it significant credibility among elected officials and the public; its Voters’ Guide offers respected information on candidates and issues; and its public education efforts promote informed citizenship. The League played an important role in many women’s lives throughout the twentieth century, as well; its members offer a valuable window into that long history.
This short history is drawn from The League of Women Voters of Oregon, More Power Than We Know: A History of the League of Women Voters of Oregon, 1920-2012, Second Edition (Salem, OR: Eagle Web Press, 2012). For more information on the League’s current work, see the websites for Oregon League of Women Voters and the League of Women Voters of Corvallis. State and some local League archives are held at the University of Oregon Archives and Special Collections.
For more information on the history of the League of Women Voters more generally, see Louise M. Young, In the Public Interest: The League of Women Voters, 1920-1970 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989). Numerous scholars have published articles on League history in particular locations, most of which focus on its early decades.
 The League of Women Voters of Oregon, More Power Than We Know: A History of the League of Women Voters of Oregon, 1920-2012, Second Edition (Salem, OR: Eagle Web Press, 2012), 16. For a broader discussion of the progressive political stance of the League, see Naomi Black, Social Feminism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989).
 LWVOR, More Power Than We Know, 97. For more on the League’s longer history of environmental activism, see Terrianne Schulte, “Citizen Experts: The League of Women Voters and Environmental Conservation,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 30, No. 2 (2009): 1-29.