Celebrating the Past, Maintaining Values, and Defending Voting Rights in an Uncertain Future
The 1990s started off with celebration of milestones, as the Northfield League launched into their usual work with renewed energy. Since then, the Northfield League has continued to fight at the local level, working closely with the state League. The League defends its core principle of promoting non-partisan citizen participation in democracy, with a deeper understanding of how the shifting role of women in society has influenced the League’s activities.
The Northfield League has come a long way since its initial establishment in 1914, disbandment in 1953, and revival in 1964. Many dedicated members and leaders have poured their efforts into the cause along the road. At the junction between two centuries, the milestones worth celebrating were also opportunities for reflection: what has the League’s work meant? What more can the League do moving forward?
“She can turn what might be an insoluble controversy into consensus… It seems to be patience, persistence, and pure magic.” Jane McWilliams, the first President of the Northfield League at its resuscitation in 1964, won the Hope Washburn Award for her work in bridging the state and the local League in 1991. She was also celebrated for building connections between the League and the Northfield Community.
The Northfield League was handed the ‘Torch of Democracy’ in 1994, marking the celebration of the State League’s 75th Anniversary. The Torch is used to symbolize the carrying-on of the League’s spirit. 1995 also marked 75 years since the 19th amendment came into existence. Milestones like these are also times for reflection – as of today, how much has changed since the 75th celebration? What issues do you believe will define the League in the next 25 years?
Changing Role of Women and the League
Originally funded in Northfield by stay-at-home mothers, the League spent much of 1990’s adjusting to the changing role of women in the home. Cultural changes meant more women working and fewer women home. The requirements of a job and family meant women had less time to engage with the league. Membership skewed older and less young women were inclined to join. However, the League attempted to attract working women through various campaigns.
The Northfield League worked with a class at St. Olaf to create a report on homelessness in Northfield in September 2018. Like many other briefing papers, this paper was written to supplement a pre-existing stance held by the LWV. These briefing papers often take up to a year to create and help support the League’s mission for non-partisan, fully researched political positions.
As the league entered the 80’s and 90’s less women were staying at home with their children and more were joining the workforce. By using 10-minute activism this ‘action’ memo allows League members to make a difference in small bits of time, a change that reflects the role the League held in many members’ lives.
‘Membership in the League fits into your life at all ages and stages’, this inter-league memo reflects some of the changes within the league during the 1990s, while still upholding the league’s core values of research, non-partisanship, and activism. Although this memo was written for the LWV MN, any Northfield Leaguers would be hard-pressed to disagree with it.
Upholding Democratic Values at the Local Level
Even as women’s lives changed over the previous 75 years, the LWV’s commitment to transparency, good government, local issues, and the ideal of one person-one vote never wavered.
In May 2003, the Northfield League succeeded in preventing gerrymandering in Rice County. The redistricting lawsuit made the news in Northfield while making gerrymandering at the county level more difficult. The League strengthened the voting rights of all Minnesotans, upholding the principle of “one person, one vote.”
Listen to Attorney Phil Zrimsek discuss the importance of the redistricting lawsuit.
For more details about this, visit the Redistricting Lawsuit main page.
In order to ensure the transparency of the local government, the Northfield League has pushed for open meetings and sent observers to city council meetings. League member and Carleton Professor Mary Savina observed many city council meetings throughout the 2000s.
Listen to League member Mary Savina discuss her involvement as a city council meeting observer.
For more information on the rebirth of the league check out: Rebirth 1960-1990