Making Democracy Work

LWV Metro Phoenix History

In honor of all the women who have served Arizona

Seventy years! It's longer than most of us have been married, and longer than many in the League have been alive. Here's a little taste of our local League history, taken from research compiled by Sandy Kazeta for a skit in the mid-90s. In November, 1941, the Phoenix League was established when 21 women met at the Westward Ho Hotel in downtown Phoenix. Officers were elected; a constitution and bylaws were adopted. Dues were established at $2.00 annually. The first president was Mrs. Frank Brophy. Almost immediately the group participated in a state meeting with League members from Tucson and Douglas which led to the formation of the State League in 1942.

A study of city and county government was begun. However, just a month later there was the attack on Pearl Harbor and suddenly everyone's focus changed. An important item for study became Foreign Policy. When the war concluded, the years 1945-50 were ones of great growth. Dues were raised to $3.00. Units studied single registration+meaning you only had to register to vote once and that would register you for state, local and school board elections. (Previously, it was not unusual to have to register for each of the three separately.) Our League worked very hard in 1947 to get high school and elementary school district elections on the same day. Those were the days when it seemed as if we had an election for something every Tuesday.

In 1948 we sent our first delegate to the national convention. That same year we had our famous BALLOT BATTALION who worked tirelessly to register voters. That decade closed with a candidate fair which was filmed and shown to 40 groups all over Phoenix. We felt technologically up to date.

As the fabulous fifties began, Mrs. E.E. Mott became President, and the Phoenix League reached the 100-member mark. We received all kinds of accolades for our work on the election for a city charter, giving Phoenix a strong city manager form of government. Mayor Udall commended the League for door-to-door election campaigning and for its publication which instructed city council members on how to hire a city manager.

Our newsletter became a regular feature and the budget allowed us to get our first office. Voter registration was a major priority and was done with deputy registrars. We pushed and pushed to get one registrar from each of the two major parties in each precinct. Sixty League members became registrars and had their homes designated as official registration places. We've always loved a good skit! In 1951, four of our members went to Whiteriver on the Apache Reservation to do some voter registration. The Skit: "A Citizen Votes" produced lots of laughter. Can you believe that our Native American tribes didn't get the vote till then? The next year's skit was even funnier. As part of a study on inflation and the diminishing food basket we had a skit called "The Market Basket Queens", complete with costumes and tips for the consumer. It was in great demand.

A most memorable event took place in 1953. Twenty-six League members and five of their children took a trip on a school bus to the top of 7,880-foot Aztec Peak to study sources of Phoenix's water. The school bus became wedged between the mountain and a big boulder and wouldn't budge. A hardy member hiked to a phone and a bulldozer was dispatched to come lift the boulder away. It pushed the bus backwards for three miles before the bus could turn around. Undaunted, the League members continued their trip and hiked to the Workman Creek Conservation Area.

Meanwhile, over in the East Valley lots of League things were happening. Fay Bullock was president of the Scottsdale Provisional League. The organizational meeting of the Scottsdale League was held on May 12, 1960. Work immediately began on a "Know your Town Government" study and much of that first year was spent on finishing that. Two units were established and in May 1961 it was announced that Scottsdale had completed all the requirements and was now a full-fledged League. At that meeting it was also announced that the study for the next year would be "Growing Pains+A Study of Expanding Community in Relation to Planning and Zoning". Alas, some things never change. We had many long discussions on how to get the newspaper to print information about our meetings instead of just putting us on the women's social page!

We grew, expanded to Paradise Valley and added a Tempe Unit. A very familiar name, Jane Rein'l was elected to the board in 1962. She immediately was elected a delegate to the State Convention. At about the same time Doris Krigbaum was president of the Phoenix League. She went on to serve at the State level.

Our 1964 voter's guide set a distribution record: 47,000 copies in Maricopa County. We received praise from many, many people. That year we tried a new format: a "Meet the Candidates Night" at Christown Mall. This was a chance for voters to talk personally with candidates. Members of our League answered questions about voting and demonstrated the voting machines.

"You and Your Vote", a semi-weekly question and answer column prepared by the League, ran in the Arizona Republic for three months before the election and was very well received. The League sponsored a Voter Participation Contest and 100% of seven different women's groups participated. Names of the organizations were added to a silver trophy donated by Rosenwiegs (a department store in the area). Milton Graham, Phoenix Mayor, proclaimed the week before the voter registration deadline as "Women Voters' Week." In Mesa, an active League began in 1954. The first President was Mary Strauch. Three units met regularly. The big responsibility was to help all citizens become well informed about their government. A shocking statistic was revealed. In Mesa at the beginning of 1955 the population was 22,500, but there were only 963 registered city voters. We really had our work cut out for us. We worked with the Mesa newspaper and achieved a lot of publicity as we studied and watched our city council in action. The next spring we had 63 members. The challenge of voter registration continued. Locally we studied school taxes and juvenile delinquency. The big national study was on Individual Liberties.

By 1960 we began to worry about motivating ourselves to increase our membership and by the fall of 1964 we only had 15 members. A very important meeting was called in November to decide what to do. We decided to join with the Scottsdale League and on April 14. 1965, we met to officially transfer our assets to the new combined League, which became the League of Women Voters of East Maricopa County.

The 70s were a time of great activity. The decade opened with Catherine Zandler as president of the Phoenix League. Catherine went on in 1971 to become State president and served as State legislative chair for the League for many years. She remembers that the League of Arizona conducted its first study of the environment.

Ellen Corkhill became active in the League in the 1960s and became Phoenix president in 1971. We researched, wrote and printed a book to sell to the public. It was approved by the city of Phoenix and titled "Phoenix". We sold copies and donated others to High School classes. A state study concerned the election of judges and resulted in the position that still is valid today. We worked so hard getting more members+went door to door with brochures. This taught us a lot about recruitment, but wasn't very successful. Our membership was about 205 and dues were $5.00. There were difficulties filling all the job openings, but somehow the work always got done. Marge Thornton was East Maricopa president in 1969-71. The local study was a continuation of the housing study and an emphasis on accessibility of educational facilities. We were able to get decent coverage for our events. Tempe Mayor Elmer Bradley even signed a proclamation for the kick-off of the annual finance drive. And the newspaper even had a feature about us seeking new members. Voter guides took lots of our time, and water issues, which have always been a concern for the league.

Sue Lofgren worked really hard on environmental issues during her tenure, and then Dee Sirkis became the East Maricopa president from 1973-75. This was a great time for our League. We had the luxury of having 5 officers (three vice presidents), 10 directors, 8-9 off board chairs and 4 unit chairs. We had three morning units and one evening one. We had observer corps in Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe who monitored school boards, city councils, and other commissions and boards in the three cities.

There was an active State environmental quality committee with 13 of the 21 committee members coming from the East Maricopa League. Not only did they get a lot of work done without a great burden on any one person, but the group had a lot of fun.

Together the Phoenix League and the East Maricopa League raised the necessary funds, and prepared, produced and had printed 60,000 primary election Voter's Guides and 85,000 general election guides.

Skeet Blakeslee joined the League of Phoenix in September 1971. She was new to League but not to politics. She volunteered to serve on the Committee for the Congress study and the Arizona Election Law study. She then chaired the Transportation study. Skeet remembers that in the early 70s the Phoenix and East Maricopa Leagues shared an office on 2nd Street, south of McDowell. We operated with a very old ditto machine, which printed, then fired papers out across the room. There had to be a catcher or two, but at least it was electric. We previously had what must have been a very early mimeograph+hand cranked+which never seemed to operate.

Sometime in the 70s, the League moved into an office across the street. Hooray! We bought a new modern mimeograph machine and began producing longer, more informative bulletins. In the summer the ink in the tube heated up, got pretty liquid, supersaturated the film and threw ink all over the room--and whoever was standing within three feet or so. We finally bought a modern copy machine in about 1985.

Some other familiar names from that time frame: Betty Shoenhair, president 1978-79. Linda Rosenthal, Joan Grace, Eva Patton+all served actively on committees.

In 1975 the East Maricopa League celebrated its 10th anniversary. At the annual meeting the bylaws were changed to reflect that men could now become voting members of the League.

Entering the 80's Gini McGirr, became President of the Phoenix League. One of the tasks that kept us really busy at that time was a re-write of the Phoenix city charter. Gini represented the League and co-chaired the committee with Jon Kyl. We worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and did forums all over the state. Gini especially remembers going to Quartzite and tangling with some ranchers.

Gini and Skeet Blakeslee (along with another couple of other people) had a wonderful dog and pony show on Congress and another on the Executive Branch. They went to other Leagues all over for several years. Gini remembers, also, the time there was a fire in the League office in the middle of the night, as a result of an arson fire in a connecting office. Police and fire fighters had to go through to see if the walls were hot between the two offices. It looked like a movie set with huge lights all over, and there was no electricity for several days afterwards.

As many of League members took full time jobs, leadership needs became apparent. Under the leadership of Gini McGirr and Felice Bews (the final East Maricopa President), merger talks took place. In 1983 the merger became official in 1983, and State President Betty Shoenhair formally opened the first meeting of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Phoenix. The first President of the Metro League was Skeet Blakeslee, mentor to so many of us. Her first Vice President was Sandy Kaszeta, who ended up being "abandoned" by Skeet (who was traveling in China) in the spring of 1984 and conducted the first annual meeting of the combined leagues on her own! By Skeet's account, the most important and rewarding aspect of League is the people you meet+bright people with open minds and ideas, because League is for people who like to learn, who like to do, who get involved, who try to make a difference.

During the 80s Anne Drobny and Barbara Glenn also served as President. Eleanor Coup was the office manager and kept us all supplied with knowledge we needed to do our jobs. For several years Mimi Hynek graciously allowed us to have our office in her home and was always there to help. During this time there were several successful debates and voter forums. We co-sponsored a candidate debate with the NAACP and the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation. It featured national, congressional and gubernatorial candidates. Later there was a televised debate on the recall of Governor Evan Mecham. It was on Channel 10 with an audience of 200. Sam Stieger, the governor's assistant, did not show up. The event was carried live that night with a repeat on other channels the next night. Great publicity for us. Another good debate was on the Rio Salado project.

We took a couple of field trips to ride the Phoenix busses through downtown Phoenix and another to view groundwater protection sites. We began a study on Valley Transportation Alternatives and held a general meeting on the Regional Authority for Mass Transit.

A highlight was the introduction of our Hazardous Waste publication. We researched the issue and thought we might do a project on the subject, but due to costs and liability realized that this would need to be a city project. Years later many of the cities began doing the things we suggested. Also at this time, our affiliation with Kids Voting began.

In the early 90s Carol Harris became president. The Health Care Study took up much of Carol's term, with study and consensus. The National Convention delegates voted to accept the position in 1992. We began the committee and study work to establish a position regarding violence against children. The committee felt so strongly about the subject that we worked to get it accepted as a State position, then joined with Minnesota, and it was accepted as a National position by concurrence at the 1994 Convention.

Other subjects of interest were our work on campaign finance reform. In 1993 the National Voter Registration Act resulted in Motor Voter+citizens being able to register to vote at motor vehicle offices.

We also held a really enjoyable field trip to the Desert Botanical Garden to tour the Desert House and learn more about conserving natural resources. And then came our 75th anniversary. Sandy Kaszeta served as co-chair for the statewide event.

It was an exciting experience. The League was 75 years old in 1995, which coincided with the 75th Anniversary of Women's Right to Vote. As several of us sat around a kitchen table, we decided that we should have a celebration and that this should be a really major event. We approached our friends in AAUW and BPW and we were on our way. Soon the Arizona Capitol Museum and the Governor's Office for Women were on board. Eventually 50 other organizations joined in to work together to pull off a wonderful celebration. It included a March to the Capitol from the Carnegie Library, a celebration on the Capitol grounds, a fancy luncheon where we honored Sandra Day O'Connor as the first Frances Munds Award recipient. But the aspects of the day that we, in the League, were most proud of were our educational forums and packets on Arizona Women's History. We received a grant from the Humanities Council and worked very hard on the research. Many members spent many hours in Sandy Kazeta's living room, stuffing thousands of packets. What a memorable day!

During Anne Eschinger's term, the office moved to 16th Street and hired Elaine McLean as our office manager. During much of that time lots of the president's and member's time, efforts and resources went to working on the state issues of Clean Elections and Independent Redistricting Commission.

Barbara Robertson served two terms as our President and got us through some difficult times as we wrestled with insurance issues, moving the office to E. Thomas in Phoenix and hiring first Joel Foster, then Sandy Baker as office managers. Barb Robertson was president during the first round of Clean Elections debates which we sponsored and moderated. Due to rules at the time sponsoring was a financial burden needing up-front monies, and the paperwork was enormous. The following election season we partnered with the Maricopa County Community Colleges and took part in fewer debates.

Those housekeeping chores did not keep us from concentrating on new and exciting issues. During this time Barbara Klein chaired a study on Election Systems Reforms and after establishing a position with LWVMP, our League brought this study to the state for concurrence and established a State Position (which would later lead to other pushes for better election reforms). Both Barbara(s) presented on the issue at the national convention.

In 2002, Kathy Schwarz became our President and Jan Gdovic was hired as our office manager. During that time as civility in our state seemed to be deteriorating we sponsored a Study Circles event to teach civic participation using civil discourse held at ASU downtown. We also participated in the national `People Speak' program and brought international election observers to our area to share what they had seen in other nations. Kathy hosted several `teas' for the holidays where we collected various items: books, socks, toiletries, etc for organizations like Vista del Camino. Sandy Kaszeta worked with the World Affairs Council to bring us private meetings with representatives from several African nations, Russia, and the Middle East.

From 2004-2006 , Kathy Schwarz and Barbara Klein were co-presidents of the LWVMP (while Barbara was also state VP). As the first co-presidents, they found it easy to work together and each found strengths to compliment the other, but membership continued to fall. During the 2004 election many of our members took part in the Election Protection program as well as being poll workers and poll watchers. We continued to run debates and our `We Run Elections' program was a great fundraiser when reaching out to Homeowners Associations. Barbara Klein (with help from her husband) designed and oversaw production of our continued fundraising '50 year member' pin which Leagues all over the country have purchased. During this time, thanks to Kathy Schwarz, we established our `legacy' fund efforts. The move from Phoenix to an AIPER owned location saved over $300/month; many helped to sell much of our unneeded stuff to tenants next door. This may not seem so meaningful but helped keep us alive. As leadership positions became harder to fill during this time, reorganization of the MP League was planned. In 2006 we restructured as an administrative team, eliminating executive roles such as president, and setting up `portfolios' for different roles. Our `units' officially became community teams (although most everyone lapses into still referring to them as units). .We put our "inheritance in an annuity--which saved lots of money; with all the problems with stock losses and withdrawing funds to meet budget+we still have around 80% of what we started with.

We continued with many of the programs we had worked on before and participated with the state League to protect Impartial Courts and Clean Elections. We started our first Constitution Day event at this location and the first one and those since have seen large audiences. Due to circumstances beyond our control we lost another office location and had to relocate to our 24th St. location.

In 2008 we were the main Local League to represent the LWVAZ in leading an effort to pass an initiative for Ranked Choice Voting in Glendale, AZ (eventually losing by 45-54%). In 2010 our East Valley Unit members Karen Michael, Sandra Eiker and Sandy Kaszeta chaired a Maricopa County Government project which continued through 2011.

In 2010-2011 and continuing, we began a new educational series entitled "Brown Bag Politics", choosing issues relevant to the moment and bringing in speakers to discuss both sides. Additionally, in an effort to encourage more social activity, in 2011 we have begun a book discussion group, with our first book entitled Founding Sisters and the 19th Amendment."