Five League of Women Voters Duluth members have more than 50 years of serviceYou could say that Lee Ball was an accidental president. The Duluth woman was invited to a League of Women Voters Duluth meeting by a friend in 1957. It would be a long time before she missed another meeting.
You could say that Lee Ball was an accidental president. The Duluth woman was invited to a League of Women Voters Duluth meeting by a friend in 1957. It would be a long time before she missed another meeting.
Ball became a member, went on to chair some committees and was eventually nominated and elected as the league’s president in the mid-1970s. Today, more than a half-century after attending her first meeting on a whim, Ball is still an LWV member.
“I guess the moral of the story is, don’t pass up an invitation,” said Ball, who is now 85. “I still feel the league is very important today. I’m not active anymore, but I keep pulling for them and keep supporting them.”
Ball’s story might sound like a unique tale of dedication, but, as it turns out, it’s not so uncommon. LWV Duluth has five members that have spent more than 50 years with the organization.
Those members — Ball, Hommey Kanter (64 years of service), Mary C. Van Evera (64 years), Gwen Carlson (60 years) and Adele Unzen (57 years) — will be honored at the league’s May 8 annual meeting.
“This is a pretty dedicated group,” said Gail Schoenfelder, the league’s current vice president. “A lot of them participated in the league when they were referred to as “Mrs. Such-and-Such.” Things have certainly changed over the years for women since they joined.”
Archival photos of League of Women Voters members document those changes. Besides the distinct differences in attire, photo captions, for the most part, list the women only by their husbands’ names.
Many of the longtime members, however, said they got involved in the league because the social norms were different at the time. When they joined in the 1940s and ‘50s, most women didn’t have jobs and were able to dedicate more time and energy to the organization.
“In my early years I was working just part-time and I was very active in the league,” said Kanter, who twice served as league president. “A lot of women worked during the war, but they lost their jobs after the men started coming home. There were certainly a lot less women in the workforce than there are now.”
Kanter, now 90, went to work at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1965. After that, Kanter, like many other women at the time, no longer served on committees or in leadership positions.
But it was something that she was not willing to give up on altogether.
“It’s one of the few organizations, women’s or men’s organizations, where people really come to work,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for all sides to be heard. Once the league takes a stand on an issue, members and the public can be sure it’s something that’s been thoroughly discussed.”
While the league was founded in 1920 to help women become involved in the political process when the 19th Amendment first gave them that right, the organization’s goals have become broader over time.
LWV is a nonpartisan group and does not support any candidates. Rather, members at local chapters conduct studies and reach consensus opinions on particular issues.
Despite its name, the league is not just for women. Men are now welcome to join, and the league’s goal is to cover a broad spectrum of issues, particularly locally.
“Having an informed public is important to keeping a democracy going,” Ball said. “We educate ourselves first on the important issues, and then we try to give the information that is needed by the public, by the
Gwen Carlson, 94, said she joined the league in 1953 because she was interested in some city issues that she no longer remembers. She soon took an interest in state issues as well. She said she remains supportive of the league because it has helped her look at issues and choose candidates.
“The league was wonderful in that it was so
interested in local issues and bringing out information,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful institution. I hope it continues.”
While the five women will be honored at this year’s meeting, LWV Duluth officials might need to have a similar ceremony again soon. There are several other members who will reach the half-century mark in a couple years, Schoenfelder said.
“Right now we have about 200 members varying in age from 20 on up,” she said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve had these women come to us so we can allow this dynamic organization to continue.”