Narrator: Carrie Chapman Catt
Carrie Chapman Catt (hereafter as CCC): Hi, I'm Carrie Chapman Catt and I'll be your narrator today. I was the first president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. After a long fight women finally got the right to vote in 1920. Our organization was established to help the new women voters to become informed and educated voters. Soon local Leagues were being established all over the country. During the 1930ties there were several attempts to start a League in Phoenix, but all the efforts were short lived. Finally in 1941 a permanent League was formed. Meet Bertha Kirkland, Phoenix League president in 1944 and early historian for our League.
Bertha Kirkland: In November 1941 the Phoenix League was established. 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.
CCC: And so the fabulous fifties began. The Phoenix League reached the 100 member mark. Mrs. EE Mott, President in 1952 will share some of the exciting experiences.
Mrs. EE Mott: We started the decade with 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 the 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. 60 League members became registrars and had their homes designated as official registration places.
During the 50ties, we sure loved a good skit. Can you believe in 1951, 4 of our members went to Whiteriver on the Apache Reservation to do some voter registration? The Skit: "A Citizen Votes" produced lots of laughter. And 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.
The most memorable, never to be forgotten event took place in 1953. 26 league members and five of their children took a trip on a school bus to the top of 7,880 ft Aztec Peak to study sources of Phoenix's water. Well, 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.
CPC: Meanwhile over in the East Valley lots of League things were happening. Fay Bullock was president of the Scottsdale Provisional League.
Faye Bullock: 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, still active, Jane Rein'l was elected to the board in 1962. She immediately was elected a delegate to the state convention. Jane, please stand and be recognized for over 40 years of active service to our League.
CCC: At about the same time Doris Krigbaum was president of the Phoenix League. She went on to service at the state level.
Doris Krigbaum: Our 1964 voter's guide set a distribution record- 47,000 copies in Maricopa County. We received praise from many, many people. That year at a "Meet the Candidates Night", we tried a new format. This was a chance for voters to talk personally with candidates. It was held at Christown Mall and was co-sponsored by us, the Christown Chamber of Commerce and BPW. 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 which produced seven's women's organization with 100% of their members voting. Names of the organizations were added to a silver trophy donated by Rosenwiegs (A department store in the area). Milton Graham was mayor of Phoenix at the time and he proclaimed the week before the voter registration deadline as "Women Voters Week."
I continued on with League work at the state level and still am active in the East Valley unit.
. CCC: In Mesa, an active League began in 1954. The first President was Mary Strauch.
Mrs. Strauch: The provisional League in Mesa took off in the fall of 1954. Three units met regularly. The big responsibility was to help all citizens become well informed about their government. A shocking statistic was revealed about 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. One of the members was Veora Johnson honored this past year by the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame. 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. In the fall of 1960 we acquired a wonderful new member, Carol Harris who has never stopped working since.
A very big success came with the publication "Mesa, Gateway to the Valley".
By the fall of 1964 we only had 15 members and 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.
CCC: Two weeks later, the Mesa and Scottsdale Leagues joined together to become the League of Women Voters of East Maricopa County. Can you imagine the discussions there must have been to choose the name?
CCC: The 70ties 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 reports that the League of Arizona conducted its first study of the environment.
Ellen Corkhill became active in the League in the 1960's and became Phoenix president in 1971. She remembers:
Ellen Corkhill: 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 sure taught us a lot about recruitment, but wasn't very successful. Our membership was about 205 and dues were $5.00. And it never changes, there were difficulties filling all the job openings, but somehow the work always got done.
CCC: Marge Thornton was East Maricopa president in 1969-71.
Marge Thornton: Our 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 has always been a concern for the league.
CCC: Sue Lofgren worked really hard on environmental issues during her tenure. Sue, please stand and be recognized. Then Dee Sirkis became the East Maricopa president from 1973-75.
Dee Sirkis: 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. A quote from that committee: "A committee like this makes League work a real pleasure. Not only did we get a lot of work done without a great burden on any one person, but we also meet regularly and have a lot of fun."
Together the Phoenix League and the East Maricopa League raised the necessary funds, prepared, produced and had printed 60,000 primary election Voter's Guides and 85,000 general election guides.
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.
CCC: Some other familiar names from that time frame: Betty Shoenhair, president 1978-79. Linda Rosenthal, Joan Grace, Eva Patton all served actively on committees.
CCC: Entering the 80ties Gini McGirr, our current state President was president of the Phoenix League.
Gini McGirr: One of the tasks that kept us really busy was a re-write of the Phoenix city charter. I 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. I especially remember going to Quartzite and tangling with some ranchers.
Skeet Blakeslee and I (along with another couple of other people) had a wonderful dog and pony show on Congress and another on the Executive Branch. We went to other Leagues all over for several years.
One of the most shocking experiences was when we had a fire at the office. There was arson in the office behind us. I got the call in the middle of the night. The police and fire fighters had broken the window to get in and saw my name on the bulletin board. They had to go through our office to see if the walls were hot between the two offices. It looked like a movie set with huge lights on all over: fire fighters, police, and arson team. The police helped my husband Gordon put plywood over the window. We got home about 5:00 a.m. Gordon took a shower and went to work. We didn't have electricity for several days.
CCC: As many of our members took full time jobs, leadership needs became apparent. Under the leadership of Gini McGirr, the last Phoenix president and Felice Bews, the last East Maricopa President, merger talks took place. In a joint annual meeting the merger became official in 1983. The League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Phoenix was born. Our president was Skeet Blakeslee, mentor to so many of us today.
Skeet Blakeslee: I joined the League of Phoenix in September 1971. I was new to League but not to politics- I was already a political junkie- thanks to my mother-in-law who got me involved in Indiana. I volunteered to serve on the committee for the Congress study and the Arizona Election Law study.
President Ellen Corkhill asked me to join the board very soon thereafter as chair of the Transportation Study.
When I joined, the State, 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. - You had to have a catcher or two- but it was electric. We previously had what must have been a very early mimeograph, hand cranked, which never seemed to operate.
Along sometime in the 70ties, we moved into an office across the street ( from one second floor office to another- carrying all the stuff across the street). Hooray! We bought a new modern mimeograph machine and began producing longer, more informative bulletins. The Gestetner was wonderful- except in the summer when the air conditioning wasn't functioning. - then 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. Now we own copiers, fax, computer. We are quite modern--but I would call your attention that it still takes people.
By the beginning of the 80tie, more members were going back to work and to school....no, they didn't do it to buy fancy foreign cars--they did it for economic necessity. But the Leagues were having trouble filling their boards and committees...and some of the study committees were already made up of joint East Maricopa and Phoenix members. Some of us began to talk about the possibility of merging the two leagues. The two boards agreed to poll their members and see if there was a possibility. It was agreed. The annual meeting for the two Leagues was in 1983; was conducted at the same time and place, with each League conducting its own separate meeting, and having members vote to merge the two. Then, the state president, Betty Shoenhair, formally opened the first meeting of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Phoenix. Bylaws were adopted, a budget presented, and a board elected. I was honored to serve as the first president of the Metro-Phoenix League....my first vice president was Sandy Kaszeta. I'm not sure if Sandy has forgiven me yet for going to China in the spring of 1984- and leaving her to conduct the first annual meeting of the combined leagues.
I served two and a half terms (5 years) as Metro-Phoenix president and a number of years as state legislative chair. The most important and rewarding aspect of League is the people you meet- bright people with open minds and ideas- League is for people who like to learn, who like to do- who get involved- who try to make a difference. I have made a lot of wonderful friends in the League
THEY ARE THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY BELIEVE THAT DEMOCRACY IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT.
CCC: During the 80ties Anne Drobny and Barbara Glenn also served as our president. Eleanor Coup was our 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. Anne, share some of your memories, please.
Anne Drobny: During this time we had 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 are currently doing the things we suggested..
And our affiliation with Kids Voting began.
CCC: In the early 90ties Carol Harris became president
Carol Harris: The Health Care Study took up much of my term with study and consensus. The national convention 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- 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.
CCC: And then came our 75th anniversary. Sandy Kaszeta served as co-chair for the statewide event.
Sandy Kaszeta: This 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 aspect 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 of you spent many hours in my living room as we stuffed 1000 of those packets. What a memorable day!
CCC: During Anne Eschinger's term we moved the office to 16th Street and hired Elaine McLean as our office manager
CCC: 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 and hired first Joel Foster then Sandy Baker
CCC: We've come a long, long way in our 85 years as a League. When the League was 50 years old there was a celebration and back there in the 70ties, they loved a good skit and some songs. Barbara Klein will lead us in a tune or two. You should find the words on the song sheet.
After the league songs, song leader will say: It is time to celebrate, the League is 85 years old. Someone else in this group also turned 85 this week. It was Ellen Corkhill's birthday yesterday. Ellen come up here. We'll sing Happy birthday twice. The first time to Ellen and the second to the League. (sing Happy birthday 2 times) There will be a flower to give to Ellen.
CCC: And so we come to the present . Jan Gdovic is our office manager, Kathy Schwarz is our President and we look to the future. Kathy will make a toast to the future.
Kathy Schwarz makes a toast to the future and thanks everyone who participated today. And then gives the good byes for the day.
Researched and Compiled by Sandy Kaszeta with the help of some old minutes and memories from many long time members. December 2004