Washington state marks 100th anniversary of women's suffrage

The League of Women Voters returns to meet again this fall during the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in Washington state.

The league's local branch has been meeting in Federal Way since 1967, the same year Miriam Helgeland got involved. Helgeland joined the group as a way to find some "me time," as she puts it — a time carved away from her children's activities. It was a time for her to learn about politics and election issues and discuss them with other women.

Since joining, she learned the league was a family tradition. Helgeland's grandmother attended a few league meetings shortly after women nationwide received the right to vote in 1920. Helgeland regrets that she never asked her grandmother if she voted in that first election.

Nationally, The League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The convention was held just six months before the 19th Amendment's enactment, which gave women the right to vote.

The league is strictly nonpartisan. Its only mission is to inform and encourage participation in government.

Over the years, the Federal Way group has organized many civic-minded events, including candidate forums and voter registration drives, where Helgeland said they "sat for hours" at the current Commons mall.

Today, Helgeland still marks out time with the league. She's one of several women who have stayed with the group for years. Some things have changed: Several years ago, men where allowed into the group.

Election 2010

The league discusses and takes positions on ballot measures. The local groups come up with their own opinions, which in turn are passed onto the statewide group.

The League of Women Voters of Washington have taken the following stances for the November ballot:

• The league supports Referendum 52 and Initiative 1098. R-52 provides for state general obligation bonds of up to $505 million to fund energy efficiency projects in state-funded schools, including colleges. The bonds would be funded by extending the current state tax on bottled water beyond its current expiration date of 2013. I-1098 would allow an income tax on the wealthy — those making more than $200,000 as an individual or $400,000 for joint filers. I-1098 would also reduce state property tax levies, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues toward education and health.

• The league opposes I-1053, I-1100, I-1105 and I-1107. I-1053 would restate the existing requirement that any legislative acts that raise taxes require a two-thirds majority or voter approval. I-1100 and I-1105 both deal with privatizing liquor sales, rather than having alcohol sold only in state-run liquor stores. I-1107 would end the sales tax on candy and bottled water.

• The league has no opinion on I-1082 (proposal to change the workers' compensation system) and HJR 4220 (amending the state constitution regarding bail for crimes).

Click here for a list of proposed initiatives for the 2010 ballot in Washington state.

Women's suffrage in Washington state

Washington was a little ahead of the curve, giving women the right to vote in 1910, a full decade before the passage of the 19th Amendment.

According to an article by Shanna Stevenson on Washington Women's History Consortium, as a territory, Washington began talking about women's suffrage in 1854 in the Washington Territorial Legislature. The amendment failed by only one vote.

There were several attempts over the next few years. In 1871, national suffrage advocate Susan B. Anthony traveled to Washington to rally the cause.

There were several more attempts before a 1886 act that allowed women to vote for reforms in local elections. However, women were disqualified in a 1988 Washington Territorial Supreme Court case.

After several years, the movement picked up steam and was put on the ballot for the fairly new state. The ballot measure to amend Article VI of the Washington Constitution won by majority of 22,623 on Nov. 8, 1910, a favorable vote of nearly 2 to 1. Every county voted in favor of the amendment. Washington state joined the western states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho in enacting women's suffrage.

Check it out

• This year's League of Women Voters meeting schedule kicks off at 7 p.m. Sept. 15 at Foundation House, 32290 1st Ave. S., Federal Way. Topics this year include a forum on ballot issues Oct. 14 (time and location to be announced). In November, the group will be discuss a book about the Supreme Court, "The Nine." To learn more, call (253) 852-4167.

• To learn more about voting in the November election, call (206) 296-VOTE.

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