By: Karen Li Miller
This year, the League of Women Voters of Connecticut celebrates its 100th anniversary. We can examine documents from the League of Women Voters from the early 1920s (MS 97845) to learn more about this exciting time of political change.
On the evening of October 4, 1920, Jule S. Friedman began recording the minutes of her equal rights club meeting. At the top of the page, she wrote: “The first meeting of the New Haven Political Equality Club since the ratification of the nineteenth amendment.” Jule, a twenty-three-year-old teacher and suffragist, knew that her club was facing a new political landscape.
The 19th Amendment was certified in August 1920, granting women citizens the right to vote. The amendment was ratified by the Connecticut General Assembly on September 14, 1920. Suffragist organizations, including the New Haven club, had worked to gain women’s voting rights. When this goal was achieved, they had to decide their next steps. Would they disband? Should they continue their political activism? And what would that involve?
In recognition of the importance of supporting women in using their new electoral voices, the National Woman Suffrage Association became the League of Women Voters. This important transition was made six months before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Connecticut suffragists followed suit and established the Connecticut League of Women Voters on January 18, 1921, in New Haven.
However, many local suffrage organizations actually began shifting their focus before 1921. Thanks to Jule’s notes, we can see an example of this transformation.
On October 11, 1920, Jule wrote that her group voted to “reorganize for active work under a new name…the ’New Haven League of Women Voters.’” Grassroots organizations like Jule’s had been powerful in building support for suffrage. With their momentum and confidence high, the club chose to redirect their energy and continue their political activism. Their goals were ambitious. Their founder, Hannah Sturgess, encouraged them to “embrace their opportunity for endless activity in work for the betterment of humanity.”
The New Haven League introduced its members to a wide variety of topics, especially legislative issues. On March 14, 1921, they held a talk on “Laws on Investments and Securities.” Jule noted that a bill on investment laws had recently been introduced to the state legislature. After hearing March 14 talk, the League voted to “recommend that the Connecticut legislature adopts the laws which now exist in Chicago.”
It might seem surprising that the group was interested in investments and securities. At this time women’s participation and control in finances was very limited. For the League, supporting modern women included expanding their financial knowledge and rights.
The New Haven League cast its gaze abroad too. During their meeting on October 25, 1920, the members listened to a talk from a Mrs. Whitney. This presentation advocated for the United States to join the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations. (Ultimately, the United States did not.)
Jule’s notes in the CHS collection end in 1921, though she likely continued her club involvement. For her, political activism was a family interest. Her mother, Reyna Friedman, was also a teacher and member of the New Haven League.
The legacy of the Friedmans and other members of the League thrives a century later. The League of Women Voters of New Haven and Connecticut continue to serve as significant non-partisan organizations. They empower and educate voters to participate in our democracy.