Rogue Valley League was established in 1939. Then in 1962 a League was established in Ashland. In 2011 the two leagues merged.
LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF THE ROGUE VALLEY
Although Medford had been one of ten Oregon towns with a League in late 1920, it had dwindled to a study group until the big Medford Mail Tribune headline: “WOMEN VOTERS ARE ORGANIZED IN LEAGUE HERE”…
A front page story on April 20, 1939, noted the organization of the Jackson County League of Women Voters at a meeting in the Medford High auditorium the previous evening. Mrs. Leonard (Winifred) Carpenter became the group’s first president. Mrs. E. W. St. Pierre, LWVOR chairman, pointed out that the League of Women Voters had been functioning in the United States for 20 years as a non-partisan organization of civic-minded women whose aim is to improve governmental administration through intelligent study. While never sponsoring or supporting a candidate for public office, the League pledged itself to support worthy measures such as child welfare and pure food and drug legislation.
1939 was a challenging year for the new Jackson County Leaguers as they: 1) began a “Know Your Town” survey, 2) selected officers & a study program which included the role of government in child welfare, education, economic welfare and the legal status of women, and 3) reviewed proposed amendments to the national Neutrality Act” in reaction to beginning of WWII in Europe.
1940s: The local Leaguers 1) surveyed local government, 2) took on sanitary inspection of restaurants and meat sold in Medford, 3) held their first Candidates Forum and ballot measure information meeting (1940), and 4) heard speakers on topics ranging from the reorganization of Jackson County’s school district to America’s role in the Pacific! In 1941, the Jackson County League was up to 150 members and was sponsoring meetings on the world situation and the effects of the construction of Camp White! In 1942, the League developed a local response to the LWVUS “Wartime Service Program.” The LWV was especially aware of the significance of the woman voter as men went off to the military or moved to critical job locales.
1950s – By now we were the Medford League, sister to groups in Ashland & Grants Pass. The League moved to monthly General Meetings plus morning and evening units discussing national, local and state program, devoting a month to Voters Service events, plus a picnic in July! Our League assisted the County Clerk’s Office in a special Rogue River voter registration project. Study topics continued to include child welfare & youth services, the UN, urban & county expansion. Legislators appeared before the League with annual reports. Challenges to freedom of speech were of great concern. In 1955 Meat Inspection legislation was finally passed!. We held our first Candidates Fair and went on to sponsor them on TV in 1954 as well as having voter information booths at major stores.. Our “Know Your City” booklet on Medford came out in 1956, and a committee began a new “How Much Do You Know About Your County Government?” study in 1958. League members began participating in the Great Decisions program. .Dues were $3.00/year!
1960s – We had 127 members and were considering raising dues to $5! 1963’s completion of the 1st edition of “How Much Do You Know About Jackson County” was heralded at a Presentation Tea with local officials. The League continued with Voters Service and support of a county charter, as well as cooperating with Grants Pass League. There was an updated version of the county booklet in 1969!
1970s – Our Speakers Bureau grew and even presented ballot measure information on television! We had an active Observer Corps and did studies on local air pollution & water resources. The League supported Jackson County Home Rule Charter; defended Land Use Planning; studied adult mental health resources and the local farm workers situation, and published an updated “Know Your County”
1980s – Trained Leaguers were delegated to registering voters at venues outside the County Court House. We developed a position in support of the Josephine Co. home rule charter; a Land Use position supporting planning; held a “schools project” forum on financing public schools statewide, plus a town meeting on the US Constitution. In coop. with LWV Ashland, we hosted a forum on Human Needs. There were also special forums to address services, forest & community vis a vis area economic development. We adopted a Josephine Co. Adult Mental Health support position and worked on studies of local air quality and child care.
1990s – local survey on homeless youth; adoption of positions on local Transportation needs, Juvenile Justice, the new Medford City Charter, and several aspects of Jackson County Government, plus producing a new edition of “Know Your County”
2000s – LWVRV survey of health care facilities & access, 2004 publication of “What’s What in Jackson County” booklet, farm workers in the Rogue Valley; support of land use planning; co-sponsorship of Jackson County Town Hall meetings on county funding, services and priorities; and a new county budget study.
This fall the LWVRV will again sponsor forums to present ballot measure information and hear candidates. The year’s agenda will include the joint LWVA/RV county budget study, updates on regional water, land use planning, youth outreach and immigration!
Notes on the founding of the LWV of Ashland
by Connie Battaile, April 2005
In early 1962 Mary Alice Moore (an experienced League member) gathered together a group of women who might be interested in forming an Ashland League of Women Voters, as distinct from the Rogue Valley League which met in Medford. (This was before the freeway opened between Ashland and Medford.) The first meeting that I remember was held at Shirley Patton’s, probably in February, with Alice Rutter and Jane Carpenter from the Rogue Valley League present to give us information. The group continued to meet, a dittoed news sheet was put out a and soon the decision was made to proceed. Officers were elected, with Cynthia Lord as the first president, and the first newsletter – Volume 1, number 1, was published in September 1962. The LWVUS gave the local group provisional status that month since the group had gathered the required 35 members, but full League status would come only after the group had completed a Know Your Town study and had studied some of the current state and national League positions.
Of the original 35 members, the 5 who still live in Ashland are Cynthia Lord, Jean Lesher, Grace Neely, Shirley Patton, and Connie Battaile. Marjorie O’Harra now lives in Phoenix and Carol Barrett in Central Point. A year later the group had 50 members, including present Ashland residents Marilyn Kocks, Peggy Sammons, Roberta Wilda, and Nadine Harkins Purcell, and Maxine Jameson who I think now lives in Jacksonville. After that 1963 high point of 50 members, membership dropped to just 29 four years later, and, as more and more women joined the work force in the 1970s, the Ashland League has struggled to keep going.
The League originally had 2 units, one in the evening and one in the morning, so each month members had a general meeting and a unit meeting to attend. Each month a study committee made a presentation at the 2 unit meetings and, if appropriate, gathered consensus. Much of the effort of the first two years was focused on the Know Your Town study. Committees, each assigned to some aspect of Ashland, wrote up their findings and presented them to the units and in articles in the newsletter. The information was then gathered into a booklet which the League published in September 1964 and sold at the library for 35 cents. In the course of that study, the League members discovered that the City Charter, which should be the basic document of city government, was so dismal a document that it wasn’t being used, and, in fact, couldn’t even be found. Finally the committee members tracked down a copy in a box in the dirt-floored storage area at the city attorney’s office. The next two years were spent on a thorough study of the city charter. At one point we asked the Municipal Research Bureau in Eugene what help they could offer in rewriting the charter and they told us that we knew more than they – we were now the experts – and to write it ourselves. By the end of the study we felt that we could, indeed, propose a revised charter to the city. However, Dorothy Anderson, our faithful advisor from Eugene, suggested strongly that we ask the city to appoint a charter revision committee of other citizens as well as some League members so that a proposed revision would have broader support. Good idea. The council appointed the group and League member Audrey Hawk chaired it. Basically, the League members on the committee, fed the group information and they, the other committee members agreed. After 2 years of that process, the charter revision committee recommended a revised charter to the city, and the council, after making some changes, agreed in January 1970 (as I recall) to place it on the ballot for the May election. However, the city council became embroiled in a huge local political ruckus that spring and, a week before the election, attempted to remove the charter from the ballot and to declare any vote on it null and void. But the ballot had already been printed, so people voted on the charter and passed it, mostly because the council, with its various shenanigans, had managed to incur such disgust that voters supported anything they were against. We in the League had been so naïve that we hadn’t realized that the charter, on its own, probably would not have passed since voters are conservative about changing things unless there is an outrageous problem, so we in the League and the city were the unintended beneficiaries of the council’s immaturities. During the next couple of years the council attempted to repeal or alter the charter but the League was vigilant and the document survived. That council didn’t, and Audrey Hawk was elected to it in 1972, the first woman elected to Ashland’s city council.
Money. Ah, yes. Dues for the new League were $5 a year and the total budget was $535, including $255 expected from contributions. Early on we ran into opposition from both within and without to the League requirement that we have a fund drive and solicit contributions from the community. Community members said to us, “We support our own groups, why don’t you support yours?” To which our answer was supposed to be, “But we are doing public service through Voters Service, among other things, and if we spend our time raising money we won’t be able to do that.” Or some such. We dragged our feet mightily about that annual fund drive. At one point, Jane Carpenter from the Rogue Valley League was advising us and she said firmly that we should put on our spiffiest suit and go forth proudly to ask for money. I don’t know about the others, but I sat very meekly because I didn’t even own a suit, much less have a choice as to which was spiffiest. I’m suspecting that we lost members because of that onerous requirement and/or the guilt we felt if we didn’t participate.
The state and local contribution, which had started at $60 and by 1967, when the dues had increased by 50% to $7.50, the contribution was $175. As I remember, within a few years the state and national contribution took the full amount of dues and the local league had only the money it could raise from contributions.
A few closing thoughts-
Why are none of the founding members active? I can’t speak for the others, but for me it was partly that I started a job in 1974, as did many other women at about that time. There were other reasons, including the discomfort of the money raising. But the most important one was that I had become frustrated with the extreme caution of our League, as preached by our founder, who discouraged any action if we hadn’t done a study on that specific topic. I found modest personal involvement in political campaigns more satisfying than endless studying that seemed to go nowhere.
Thought number two is about those motherhood and apple pie consensus questions that used to dry me crazy. I later discovered that they lead to powerful and useful positions. For example, League favors clean air – well, for heaven’s sake, who doesn’t! But a position in favor of clean air turns out to be a good basic position to back up to when giving testimony, so that the League can make a public statement even if it does not have a consensus on the specific number of particulates, or whatever. Remember, there aren’t many other groups out there who speak to the long-term, over-all welfare of the entire community.
And finally, the League matters. In the mid ‘1970s when I was on the County Planning Commission where I was startled to find that the League was the only group that spoke for the community interest. Every other person or group who testified was speaking to their own interest. NO body else was speaking for the common good. If the League didn’t speak, the public interest and common good were not being articulated. This is a most important role, and I’m so glad that you in the League are still out there speaking for all of us.