To prepare women for their rights and responsibities as members of the voting public, leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement established the League of Women Voters of the United States on February 14, 1920.
Julia Lathrop, of Rockford, a national League founder, helped establish the League of Women Voters of Illinois (LWVIL) that fall. One year later, Lathrop helped found the League of Women Voters of Winnebago County (LWVWC), later renamed League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford (LWVGR), which encompassed Winnebago and Boone counties. On April 3, 1922, the Board of LWVIL recognized the local League.
Among the Rockford League’s charter members were: Julia Lathrop, noted for her work on the Children’s Bureau and the League of Nation’s Commission; Mabel Ashton Johnson, the founder of the Visiting Nurses Association; and Kate O’Connor, a founder of the State League of Women Voters and coordinator of Illinois’ welfare program for women and children. The Rockford League’s first President was Mrs. William C. Free.
1920’s, The first week after their founding the League held their first public meeting with speakers on the importance of the women’s vote at Memorial Hall and protested proposed use of Camp Grant as a federal prison. Later, the local League challenged a local vote tally, obtained affidavits to support their contention, and won support for training of election judges.
1930’s, when women were finally able to serve on juries, Dr. Mildred Berry arranged a jury school for members of LWVWC.
1940’s, considerable efforts were made to establish a county health department, which would become a reality decades later.
1950’s, LWVWC delegates to national convention stood up to the McCarthy intimidation by adopting the Freedom Agenda and bringing Bill of Rights education to their communities.
1960’s, the Local Government Committee of LWVWC organized a luncheon featuring a John Howard Association speaker to raise awareness regarding the need of a new jail. Not long after this pivotal event, a citizen’s committee for a new jail was established (although the jail would not become a reality until 1976.) through citizen education efforts, the League successfully called for an Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1968, hoping to address the dire need for a new state constitution.
1970’s, the Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources (POWER) was established to address the issue of groundwater protection.
1980’s, a League-sponsored study of environmental issues led to a voice in the Byron, Illinois nuclear plant licensing, thereby improving plant safety.
1990’s, the LWVGR launched the Youth Groundwater Festival (YGF) as well as an annual State of the Community event, during which elected officials and citizens discussed relevant issues.
Through a concentration on such topics as International Relations, Economic Welfare, Government Structure, Public Health, and Voter Services, the Rockford League pursues its purpose “…to promote political responsibility through informed and active participation of citizens in government.” (By-laws, amended April 26, 1980). These efforts have involved the Rockford League in redevelopment projects, the push for a state constitutional convention, and a serious review of local government structure, including Home Rule for Rockford.
The 2000’s saw a rise in security, privacy, and safety issues instigated by the 9/11 Terrorist attack, the resulting Patriot Act, explosive growth of unfettered social media, and a fracturing of traditional political parties. Reactionary voting saw pendulum swings unprecedented in American political history. The Neo-Conservative/Tea Party movement and the housing bubble financial collapse was followed by the election of the first African-American president of the United States with nascent universal healthcare and strengthening of the social safety net. The swing back to the right-wing brought conspiracy theories culminating in the January 6, 2021 Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol during the 2020 electoral college certification proceedings.
To say that these intense national and international political occurrences had no effect locally would be incorrect. School shootings, an unprecedented murder rate, and Illinois concealed-carry legislation brought forth local informational events and a League Gun Violence Prevention Committee formed to help reduce the gun violence in our community. Federal immigration changes gave purpose to a new LWVGR immigration committee headed by an experienced immigration attorney. The Black Lives Matter movement instigated a self-examination and a new Diversity committee.
The Covid-19 Pandemic brought a cessation of in-person meetings and other events to force a steep learning curve to virtual communication for political forums and candidate information. The LWVGR created coalitions with the NAACP, the Women March and Women’s Suffrage Committees, religious organizations, etc., with a focus on core League values, such as voters’ rights, equal representation, strengthening essential health care, and other, workers, and mitigating infection. In 2022 our League will celebrate our 100th anniversary still a necessary component of Winnebago and Boone Counties democracy.
In all their activities, the League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford remains politically nonpartisan.