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Mission & History

League History

Timeline — LWV of Arkansas

1920—Arkansas ratifies the 19 th Amendment.

1920—Arkansas League of Women Voters forms

1921—LWVAR loses charter by supporting political candidate

1941—LWVAR reemerges as a State League

1947—Loses charter again by supporting political candidate

1953—Reorganizes under leadership of Esther Clark, Fayetteville With Pine Bluff, Fayetteville and Fort Smith followed by Little Rock and Jonesboro

PROGRAM: Voter procedures, financing and improving education, protecting water, dealing with hazardous waste, land use, social policies, women in prisons, child care, discrimination on bases of sex, fair taxation.

Timeline — LWV of Washington County

1915—Suffragist group, the Political Equality League, forms in Fayetteville

1920—March 17 the Suffragist group became the first Fayetteville League of Women Voters

Date??-Folds along with the State League

1939—Reforms under the leadership of Doris Drake Wigglesworth

1947—Disbands along with the Arkansas state league

1952—February 9, becomes a provisional League. Becomes Fayetteville League of Women Voters in 1953

1966—Changes its name to League of Women Voters of Washington County (LWVWC)

PROGRAM: Abolition of the Poll tax, voting procedures, adequate financial support of local schools, school integration, kindergarten bill, freedom of information, city manager form of government, long range planning, juvenile detention, child welfare, environmental protection and preservation, voter education and voter registration.

A Brief History of the League of Women Voters of Washington County

In 1915 a suffragist group, the Political Equality League, was formed in Fayetteville becoming the first League of Women Voters of Washington County on March 17, 1920. Organized just five months before the passage of the 19 th Amendment and in the same year as the National League of Women Voters, its goal was to educate and promote newly enfranchised women to work for good government. Records of this first League exist for two years and were salvaged from an old house on Highway 16 in Fayetteville by a carpenter’s helper in the 1970’s. The minutes show that Madge Bates Morrow was elected “chairman”. Dues were 25 cents for active members, $1.00 for honorary members. Men were eligible to be honorary members.

Member of this early League, Roberta Fulbright, the mother of Senator j. William Fulbright, was encouraged by the League to run for the school board. Although she lost, she polled almost 40% of the vote. Edna Harding, wife of the 11 th president of the University of Arkansas, was a delegate to the first national League of Women Voters convention in Cleveland in 1921. She reported back great interest in the rapidly developing format of unit meetings as a method of maintaining non-partisanship while developing consensus on issues. Other well-known Fayetteville members were Mrs. M. M. Collier, Mrs. J.C. Futrall, and Mrs. Rosa Marinoni. This League probably folded because of partisan activities, either their own or those of the Arkansas State League.

A second League of Women Voters in Washington County was organized in Fayetteville in 1939 by Mrs. Doris Drake Wigglesworth, who became its first president. In those less liberal days, most women chose to be known by their husband’s names, so the records show succeeding presidents to be Mrs. C.D. Atkinson, Mrs. George McKinney, Mrs. Edgar Wertheim, Mrs. Henry Alexander and Mrs. John Glazier. Mrs. Alexander was the wife of Dr. Henry Alexander, professor of government at the University of Arkansas, who was very helpful to both the state and local Leagues with his informed advice and guidance. Incidentally, Mrs. Alexander was the mother of Sarah Caldwell, well-known as director of the Boston city Opera.

This early group of women studied and supported the consolidation of schools, more money for the State Hospital, better voting laws, better hospital facilities for Washington County, and millage for the county library.

The first annual state convention of the Arkansas League was held in Fayetteville May 20-21, 1941. Doris Wigglesworth gave the welcome address, and speakers were Dr. Estal Sparlin, Dr. Austin Van der Slice, and Dr. Robert Leflar. Three study items were adopted at this convention: state government, eleemosynary institutions and inter-American cooperation.

On November 17, 1947, the Washington County League was formed by the national League president that the Arkansas state League had lost its charter because of its partisan support of a political candidate. The local League subsequently disbanded.

A third and final organization meeting was held February 9, 1952, attended by Mrs. Martin Raw, a national board member from Dallas. Lillie McKinney called the meeting to order, and Mrs. Ione Jones served as president of the provisional Fayetteville League of Women Voters. Ester Clark and Sylvia Swartz, both of whom had League experience in other cities, were instrumental in getting the new League going. Ester was the first state League president from Washington County in 1955, and served four terms in that position. Later she also served four years as treasurer of the national League. Sylvia, who had also been a member of the 1939 Washington County League, sat on the new state board after its reorganization in 1955, serving as natural resources chair for ten years. Wilma Sacks was on the state board for many years, too, serving as Voter editor. She also was author of a definitive study on state financing.

At its annual meeting in March, 1966, the Fayetteville League of Women Voters changed its name to the League of Women Voters of Washington County. The change enabled the League to study a wider range of problems and encourage participation of women outside of Fayetteville. However, it was the Springdale League’s loss of charter due to partisan activity that prompted the name change.

Many Washington County League members continued to serve the state League. Noteworthy were Peg Anderson, who was state president from 1973-75 and wrote a widely-used handbook, Government in Arkansas, which she revised five times to include new legislation. She also authored a number of other handbooks and research studies. Lois Imhoff was another state League president, 1981-83, and served on the governor’s State Policy Advisory Committee from 1976-1980. She also chaired the subcommittee of the state’s Water Quality Management plan. In addition, she was a member of the Marion Orton, state League vice president, chaired an EPA solid waste management grant for a state study and promoted Community Access TV for League events in Washington County. She was mayor of Fayetteville in the 1970’s. More recently, Brenda Thiel served as a state League president and currently sits on the Fayetteville City Council. Mary Alice Serafini of Washington County will be the next state president.

Over the years, the Washington County League has been in the forefront of a number of local issues, studying, reaching consensus, taking action to implement and monitoring progress. These issues include:

  • Abolition of the Poll Tax – League members sold poll taxes and worked and lobbied constantly for the Voter Registration Amendment, where personal, permanent registration would replace the poll tax. The Amendment failed in 1956, but passed in Washington County and ultimately in the state in 1964.
  • Voting Procedures – Members worked to have local elections procedures conform to state law with qualified officials overseeing them. The League pushed to get the purchase of voting machines on the ballot and passed in Washington County and demonstrated their use. Recent concerns focus on a paper trail to ensure an accurate ballot recount.
  • Adequate Financial Support of Local Schools – A study headed by Jean Petersen on school finances led to Washington County property reappraisal by professional appraisers. This effort spread and resulted in Act 153 of 1955, which required a reassessment of all property taxes in Arkansas, which increased funs for schools.
  • Adequate Education for All Children in the Fayetteville School District – The League supported complete integration of Fayetteville elementary schools and conducted a preparatory summer program for Negro students (Lincoln school Project) in 1964. In the early 1970’s pressure by the Washington County League got a Fayetteville senator and representative to sponsor the Kindergarten Bill in the Arkansas Legislature. The League has supported special education classes, multicultural education, English as a Second Language programs and opportunities for gifted and talented students.
  • Freedom of Information – Leaguers Betty Siegel and Mabel Hudson attended City Council meetings in the 1950’s as observers. On one occasion, the business seemed to come to a stopping point. The meeting was adjourned and the Councilmen went next door for a cup of coffee. Betty and Mabel decided to wait in the car and then drove around the block. As they suspected, the councilmen had returned to City Hall to continue the meeting, thinking they had gotten rid of the observers. The next day Mabel went to the City Clerk and complained about the City’s way of doing business. In 1964, persistence by Leaguers got the Fayetteville School Board meetings open to the public.
  • Support of the City Manager Form of Government – This issue, which was on the local program from the 1960’s to the early 1990’s, reflects the League’s continued support of trained, professional leadership and the merit system in all branches of government. Fayetteville voted for the city manager form of government in 1965.
  • Long Range Planning – This was advocated in the early 60’s with the Fayetteville Street Plan, where the League promoted the concept of qualified engineers with responsibility and authority creating a long-term plan. The League has continued to support long-term planning at the city, county and regional level in transportation, waste management, and water quality.
  • Child Welfare, especially Juvenile Offenders – From the 1950’s to the present, the League has studied and advocated for keeping adequate records on juvenile offenders; enforcing national and state standards when youth are detained; and promoting a juvenile detention facility. Work with pregnant teens and tenants’ rights were also child welfare issues.
  • Support of Environmental Protection and Preservation – This has been a rich area for the Washington County League, from its support of the Buffalo River as a National Scenic River in the 1960’s to its suing the City of Fayetteville for failure to enforce its tree ordinance in 2000. In between were support of recycling, water quality studies (wastewater treatment), action on solid waste disposal (the Incinerator Project) and, more recently, non-point pollution and hillside runoff.
  • Voter Registration and Voter Education – These issues have been the main focus of the League of Women Voters in Washington County from its inception to the present. “Our strength as an organization has been issue-oriented voting and informed voting. Inform yourself, then others.”

Sources for this brief history come from records of the League of Women Voters of Washington County, which are housed in Special Collections of Mullins Library on the University of Arkansas campus. Betty Williams, Marion Wyckoff, Marion Orton and Libby Wheeler have worked on the history over the years. March, 2005

  • Arkansas Public Policy Panel
  • Hispanic Women's Organization of Arkansas
  • Mental Health America in Northwest Arkansas
  • American Association of University Women
  • Women's History Coalition of Washington County