by Nancy Schrock
While the goal of the League of Women Voters is to educate citizens so that they are better able to shape their future, it is sometimes helpful to look backward to our past, especially during the election season. For the Winchester League, the links to our past can be found in the Winchester Archival Center housed in the Town Hall. Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Historic Records Advisory Board and the work of volunteers, these records have been catalogued and are now accessible to researchers.
The history of the League goes back over a century. Handwritten minutes in a lined ledger book begin, “A meeting of those interested in women’s suffrage was called by Miss Pond, state organizer, at Madame Nowell’s, Winchester, March 20, 1888, at three o’clock.” Its goal was "to secure political enfranchisement of women". A month later on April 10th, noted suffragette Lucy Stone spoke at the second meeting. Later speakers included William Lloyd Garrison, Alice Stone Blackwell and Maud Park. Programs were intended to educate women about government, citizenship, laws, school suffrage, prohibition and the like.
The Equal Suffrage League was a mix of progressive political activism and traditional good manners. The minutes for 1898 note, “The members of the Winchester League are very hospitable and at each meeting the hostess has served dainty refreshments and very many pleasant chats have been enjoyed by the members over the drinking of that cup that cheers, and plans have been made to hasten the coming of that day when men and women shall have the equal right to do all that can be done to make homes all over the world better and heaven nearer.”
But all was not white gloves and tea. In 1903 the minutes noted a talk about “inside information on active campaign work” through the work of the Prohibitionists, calling it “somewhat of an eye opener on the politics women can play and [we] willingly agreed that these several methods should be applied to suffrage with equally good results.” In 1916 the minutes described “a very successful suffrage rally.” By 1919-20 theLeague was finally able to plan a series of citizenship lectures to educate women on how to register to vote and participate as a full citizen of the United States. The topics sound familiar to us today - registration, primaries, elections, how local government is affected by State and Federal control, the business of the General Court, and State commissions and their function.
Perhaps the most poignant inscription can be found at the end of the third ledger, “The last regular meeting of the Winchester Equal Suffrage Club and the first regular meeting of the Winchester League of Women Voters was held at the home (of) the chairman Mrs. David C. Dermott on June 2, 1920.” The right to vote achieved, the Suffrage League could disband leaving a rich legacy to its successor, the Winchester League of Women Voters.