1965: The Rebirth of the Northfield League of Women Voters
Rebirth with Women in a Community: The League of Women Voters of Northfield restarted with the enthusiasm of women in the local community. In 1965, under twelve women, the league of Northfield had begun to act again. Even after its reestablishment, the community-based spirit did not change. As an educational organization, the league played a role as a mediator between the local people and the government and existed as a close being with the people.
“Right around 1965, Carleton specially hired a lot of new professors who then came with their wives because the professors were men back then. There were many people in Northfield who then moved here around that time. And also…most of the women didn’t work back in the 1960s. They had families and took care of their families while the men worked, but most of them had degrees…so there were a lot of women in Northfield who were eager to get involved, do something, have something to do besides take care of little kids. And that is actually how it started, just a whole lot of women were anxious to make a difference and so it was a fertile ground.”– Judith Covey, former Northfield League President
This is an interview with Judith Covey in February 2019, who was one of the founding members of the league in 1965. A lot of educated women in Northfield did not work and were eager to become involved and do something while taking care of their children.
“Early on […] when women would come to Northfield, they’d be well educated, but they were here because their husbands had a job, and women weren’t necessarily employed and were kind of frustrated and looking for something to sink their minds into.” – Mary Steen, Northfield League member
In another interview, Mary Steen, a resident of Northfield since 1965 and League member since the early 1980s, recalls the same events. A collection of the eagerness of each woman in Northfield to “do something” led them to the reestablishment of Northfield League.
▶ “And the women that I worked with were women like myself, who had a real interest in community affairs and had the luxury of not having full-time jobs. And raising kids, you know, but most of us had husbands that provided, so there was a kind of demographic at that time that made it not just possible, but almost a privilege to be able to get involved in things. And, it was in the ’60s, and I don’t know what the dates are that you’ve got here, but there was activism then, you know, that had come out of some really heavy stuff, and we’re going into the more heavy stuff. So there was this sort of climate, I guess you that could say, um, and I think the League has had a reputation, even back in those days, of both being an activist group that made a difference in local politics and state and national, but it also was an educational organization. So it provided help for the communities.” – Jane McWilliams, Former Northfield League President
McWilliams in February 2019, who was the first president of the league in 1965. The ambitions of women in Northfield to make a difference and help the community coalesced around the League of Women Voters. It took some determination, but they finally achieved reestablishment.
<– This article reports the first organizational meeting of the Northfield League held on February 22nd, 1965. During the first year, the League is restricted to work at the local level on provisional status and required to publish a booklet consisting of a range of information about the Northfield community.
–> At the first official meeting of the Northfield League on March 18th, 1965, Mrs. Jane McWilliams was elected as the first President of the Northfield League. Around fifty women proposed programs for the coming year, and were keen to get involved with the League.
The League as a Place of Community Building
Becoming Part of a Community: Between the re-establishment of the Northfield League in 1965 and 1990, members of the Northfield League of Women Voters were active community members engaging with issues not only in line with the national and state League’s agenda, but also on the local scale. Members wrote letters to the editor, held meetings, contributed to League newsletters, organized community discussions on local issues, and strategized on how to push for the items on their agenda. In addition to their involvement in community issues, League members discovered new social connections, bonded over shared home and political commitments, and forged a sense of community among themselves.
“I really appreciated the women I got to know through the Northfield League of Women Voters, and it was a wonderful way of expanding my friendship circle, going to League members. I knew a lot of people in the Carleton community, and there were a lot of people in the Carleton community in the League. But I also met people from St. Olaf, and people who lived in the town.” – Mary Lewis Grow, Northfield League member
<– In this letter to the editor in the Northfield News from December 1969, League president Mrs. Arthur Campbell describes the League’s study on a Northfield school bond referendum and states that the League is “able to advocate a positive vote.” As Mrs. Campbell notes in her letter, this was the first time that the re-established League took an official position on a local issue.
–> LWV members discussed local, state, and national issues throughout this period. Members chose the areas that the League would study and take action on that year. While the Northfield League often worked on state and national League campaigns, this excerpt from the January 1981 LWV lists local studies that the local unit was conducting as well.
This excerpt from the January 1981 Catalyst, the Northfield League’s newsletter, updates members on recent happenings, provides a fact on an issue of concern to the League, and shows the sense of community among League members.
Building Connections to Global and National Policy
The Northfield League was never a purely parochial organization. Recognizing that state, national, and international issues had an impact on Northfield, the League continued to educate its members and the community about global issues.
This blurb from the Feb. 20, 1969, Northfield News announces a League members discussion on foreign policy. Recognizing that some women in the group were mothers with childcare responsibilities, the ad provides a number to call to arrange babysitting for the meeting.
In this February 27, 1969 letter to the Editor of the Northfield News, League president Mrs. John-Dyer Bennett urges Northfielders to “writ[e] to President Nixon stressing the need for his strong leadership to assure quick Senate approval” of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. League members not only studied issues at the local level, but were also engaged in educating and urging action on national and international issues.
In 1973, the President of the National League of Women Voters gave the Carleton College Commencement address. Although her ostensible topic was Watergate, her emphasis was on the importance of the democratic process. She urged her listeners to commit to “accepting responsibility for and participating in the workings of politics and government.”
Northfield LWV President Mrs. Arthur Campbell encourages constituents of Congressmen Albert Quie to contact him expressing concern over a bill he introduced to reduce federal authority over welfare programs, noting the League’s “long-term position supporting effective programs to combat poverty.” Campbell even quotes Donald Rumsfeld as support for the League’s position. The Northfield League was active in this period in promoting policy goals not only locally, but also, as in this example, on the national level.
These contrasting maps show the change in women in the workforce between 1980 and 1990 in Rice County. When zoomed out the entire country, Minnesota is one of several states to see a state-wide increase in the number of employed women.
For more information on the League’s beginning see: First Lifetime 1914-1953.
For a contemporary update see: 1991- The Future.