League of Women Voters Records Austin Area
An Inventory of the Collection
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States, campaigns for women's suffrage were fought at the regional and local level. In the state of Texas, organizations such as the Texas Woman Suffrage Association and the Texas Equal Suffrage Association lobbied intensively for the right of women to vote - a right that was achieved with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1919. After women gained the vote, supporters of women's suffrage formed the National League of Women Voters (LWV) to help educate women to carry out their new responsibilities as voters and to encourage them to participate in shaping public policy.
Texas law had enfranchised women to vote in primary elections in 1918; consequently, the Texas branch of the LWV was created in 1919, a year before Carrie Chapman Catt founded the National League of Women Voters in 1920. Jessie Daniel Ames of Georgetown was the first president of the League of Women Voters of Texas (LWV-TX), holding office from 1919 to 1923. This state organization published a monthly newspaper, the New Citizen, to help educate newly enfranchised Texas women. Austin resident Jane Y. McCallum held several offices in the LWV-TX during its early years. In addition, McCallum served from 1923-1925 as executive secretary of the Women's Joint Legislative Council, a collaborative lobbying group (known as the "Petticoat Lobby"), which supported legislative reforms for issues relating to women and children, including improved education, health funding, and the abolition of child labor. The Petticoat Lobby, whose membership also included the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, the Mothers Congress, and the Texas chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, dissolved after the 1929 Texas legislative session. However, the state and national LWV organizations continued their mission of voter education, moving from their original mission of outreach to women to a more general program of encouraging voter awareness of governmental policies. LWV-TX, for example, worked to help pass the Secret Ballot Bill in 1949, ensuring anonymity for Texas voters. It also worked for the passage of a 1954 constitutional amendment that enabled Texas women to serve on juries. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the LWV-TX supported the establishment of a system of family courts in Texas and compiled a comprehensive "Know Your State" survey that became the textbook Texas Constitutional Review.
The Austin chapter of the LWV, formed in 1919, extended this model of voter education to issues affecting Austin residents. In addition, the organization emphasized the importance of training its members to participate in public service on a local, state, and national level. In 1924, Mrs. Noyes D. Smith led the Austin League in its successful campaign to bring a Council-Manager model to Austin city government. Smith was later named the only woman to serve on Texas' first Board of Education. The Austin LWV ceased to function in the 1930s, but in the 1940s it revived its efforts, developing studies for orderly city growth and zoning. The group's interest in urban planning and good government is illustrated by League members' service in the 1950s and 1960s on numerous county and municipal commissions, such as the Charter Revision Committee, the Austin-Travis County Organization for Regional Planning, and the Urban Renewal Committee.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Austin LWV members voted to study a number of local topics related to education and government. Concerned about the quality of education in Austin, the group voted in 1970 to begin a study of the Austin Independent School District. This effort included not only a comprehensive study of AISD administration and financing, but also personal interviews of administrators and a teacher survey. Members also conducted extensive research for a local property tax study; subsequently, the group made recommendations for consolidating overlapping tax offices into a single tax appraisal district.
During the same time period, the Austin LWV participated in a national LWV program called the Observer Corps. Members of the Observer Corps attended the public meetings of a number of local and state government agencies, including the Austin City Council, the Austin Planning Commission, and the Travis County Commissioners court. The LWV representatives took notes of meeting decisions and board members' stances on issues, encouraging public participation in decision-making and promoting public access to governmental agencies. The group published advocacy papers and voters' guides based on these studies and observations that made specific recommendations for city, county, and state legislative initiatives.
The League of Women Voters is comprised of national, state, and local chapters, with boards at each level conducting studies about public policy issues, determining key focal issues, and creating action plans for each fiscal year. Membership is open to anyone who subscribes to League policies.
This collection is primarily composed of records and printed materials from the Austin League of Women Voters (LWV) with supporting printed materials from the Texas and national LWV. The records include information about the formation of the Texas LWV, local membership, and activities supporting the League's mission to "encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government, work to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influence public policy through education and advocacy."
The Organizational Records series (1919-1998, undated) contains materials from the earliest days of the Texas LWV. This series includes League bylaws and constitutions from 1919-1922, membership records, histories produced for LWV anniversaries, correspondence of Jane Yelvington Legette McCallum from the 1930s, scrapbooks, a 1970 Book of Remembrances (sic) for League members, meeting minutes, financial reports, member handbooks, memos, questionnaires, and LWV instructional materials regarding organizational roles and methods. Materials in this series document the organization and focus of an influential women's political organization, from founding in 1919 through seventy years of activity. Documents pertaining to Jane McCallum and Jessie Daniel Ames may be of interest to historians of the women's rights movement. Also of note are three scrapbooks of clippings, newsletters, correspondence, and other materials from the 1940s showing League involvement in issues of local, state, national, and international policy during and after World War II. In addition to their work to end the poll tax and institute a secret ballot, the League promoted anti- inflation legislation, ratification of the United Nations charter, and creation of the International Monetary Fund. The 1945-1946 scrapbook contains correspondence from Texas legislators responding to letters from members of the Austin LWV, including two letters from Lyndon B. Johnson when he served in the United States House of Representatives (1937-1949).
The Observer Corps Records series (1968-1981, undated) consists of materials relating to the LWV Observer Corps, a program where league members attend governmental meetings as non- participating observers to learn what their government is doing and to monitor whether those meetings are conducted in an open and transparent way. Austin LWV Observer Corps records include annotated meeting agendas from the Austin Independent School Board, Travis County Commissioners, Austin City Council, Capital Area Planning Council, Historical Landmarks Commission, and City Planning Commission. Additional records include information regarding Observer Corps activities in other League chapters, and letters sent to politicians to inform them of Observer Corp members' attendance at future city and county meetings.
One of the activities central to the LWV mission is the study of public policy issues in order to inform voters and effectively lobby for the public interest. The Voter Issue Studies and Related Materials series (1964-1982, undated) contains reports and study materials produced and used by the Austin LWV in this work, and includes material pertaining to access to the vote, especially for traditionally disenfranchised populations, effective and transparent governance, and public welfare. The files in this series document the social, political, and economic environment of Austin, Texas, in the 1970s and 1980s. The subject matter covered in this series includes property tax law, city finance, zoning regulations, Austin Independent School Board policies, and the Texas criminal and juvenile judicial systems. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the League studied several issues involving property tax codes, including school and city finance. The League decided to make property tax reform a top priority for 1977, and consequently lobbied for changes in property tax law including assessment according to market value of the property, state supervision to ensure fair and equitable assessment, and adequate training for tax assessors. Records from this subject study include two books of slides of properties in east Austin, from 1970-1979, to document the inequality of the current system of taxation. These slides may be of particular interest to researchers of mid-century architecture and city development.
The Publications series(1952-1979, undated) contains material from local, state, and national leagues. As a multi-tiered organization, the League of Women Voters publishes a great deal of administrative and informational materials for internal use and external dissemination. The National and State League publications in this series contextualize the organizational structure and activities of the Austin chapter and illustrate the relationship between National, State, and Local levels of the organization. Histories of the National LWV Forty Years of a Good Idea and A Portrait of the League of Women Voters describe the formation, focus, and activities of the League, and are essential to understanding the functioning of the Austin LWV. Local League Handbook and Guide for a Local League Treasurer provide information about the organizational structure of the Austin chapter. Study and Action in Texas and the Texas Justice System Facts and Issues Newsletters show the influence of the Texas LWV on voter issue studies conducted by the Austin League during the 1970s. An item of particular interest in the Publications series is Your Opportunity in the Austin League of Women Voters. This booklet created by the Austin LWV to promote membership, provides insight into local chapter organization, individual members' roles and duties, and how the organization conducted business. Austin League newsletters dating from 1940s to 1970s have been moved to Periodicals.
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Open to all users.
Restrictions on Use
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
Material in this collection was received in multiple donations made by the Austin League of Women Voters from 1980-1998. Detailed donation information may be found in the donor file DO/1980/022.
Austin Area League of Women Voters Records (AR.1994.093). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1980/022
Donation Date: 1980, 1994, 1998
This collection has been combined with similar material from AR.R.003, League of Women Voters Papers. Finding aid created by Colleen Hobbs and Katherine Isham in November, 2013. Encoding by Susan Rittereiser December, 2013.
Detailed Description of the Collection