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.
In all their activities, the Rockford League of Women Voters remains politically nonpartisan.