Making Democracy Work: The League of Women Voters of Wyoming

The League of Women Voters was formed in 1920 at the final convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association with the purpose to teach women how to use their new voting power. Since then, the League has played an important role in defining election issues, encouraging voter participation, and sponsoring non-partisan political debates.

In the 1950s the League’s national board undertook an effort to organize state leagues in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nevada. In North Dakota, the formation of a women’s league was openly opposed by conservative male groups. In Wyoming, opposition was not so well-organized, but, according to former Wyoming state league president Helen Hollister, “I soon discovered that some men and a few women did not approve of the league.” Nevertheless, the Wyoming chapter of the League of Women Voters was organized 60 years ago, in 1957, for the non-partisan study of election issues and the dissemination of information so that voters could make up their own minds.

Early meetings of the Wyoming league were attended and supervised by a national organizer. “The National Board was very, very strict with us regarding almost every kind of action,” Helen Hollister recalled. “We were told to be sure to wear a hat and carry gloves when we were soliciting funds.” Some members also needed help with political terminology. One report, otherwise very good, was submitted by a member who “did not clearly understand the difference between ‘statute’ and ‘statue.’”

Legal advice and political support for the League were always generously provided in the 1960s by Wyoming Senator Milward L. Simpson. Every other year the league’s national convention was held in Washington D.C. where Senator Simpson made a point of meeting with the delegates from his home state. A week later an 8×10 photograph of the meeting arrived from the senator’s office at the delegates’ homes.

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Milward Simpson with League member, ca. 1965

Over the years, the league has conducted nonpartisan research on issues such as water use and water law, air quality, cancer, correctional institutions, equality, jobs, land use, suffrage, waste removal, and recycling.

The League of Women Voters of Wyoming Records at the American Heritage Center include research files and subject files as well as business and administrative records of the organization and instructional materials developed by the league for voters’ information. The materials cover Wyoming political contests, ballot access and fairness issues, and social and environmental concerns from the mid-1950s to the 2000s. To see an inventory of the records, please go to League of Women Voters in Wyoming

And, speaking of anniversaries, today also commemorates the 97th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment which guaranteed women in the United States the right to vote.

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