The League Of Women Voters (LWV) Of Cleveland was formed in April 1920 by a group of suffragists, after the disbanding of the Woman’s Suffrage Party of Greater Cleveland. Founders followed the example of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, which had organized the National League of Women Voters in February 1920. The local league worked to complete ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and to educate new voters, with the motto, “Every Woman an Intelligent Voter.” Nonpartisan, the league also proposed to support legislation protective of women and encourage women’s involvement in politics. The Cleveland LWV was the first local chapter to send questionnaires to candidates and to hold public forums between opposing candidates. It hosted the second national convention in 1921, where activist Carrie Chapman Catt made a plea for world peace. This speech ignited a women’s peace movement that culminated locally in the Women’s Council for the Prevention of War and the Promotion of Peace and the 1924 Women’s Council Peace Parade. Belle Sherwin, the Cleveland league’s first president, served as national president from 1924-1934.
The league has endorsed legislation concerning women workers, child welfare, and education, as well as particular local issues. In 1921, the local LWV supported the City Manager Plan; in the 1950s it began to call for protecting Lake Erie as a water source; and in 1981 it successfully advocated a smaller Cleveland City Council. In the 1960s, the LWV actively supported legislation to establish accessible institutions of higher education such as Cuyahoga Community College. The league, however, refused to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for close to half a century, until 1970, because of its threat to special legislation for working women. The league has also assisted election boards and conducted voter registration and public demonstrations of registration and voting techniques.
In 1972, the LWV established the League of Women Voters of Cleveland Educational Fund, Inc., as its nonprofit educational division. The Fund sponsored a yearly series of Town Hall and Public Forums addressing issues of importance for the Cleveland area, established (1975) the Cleveland Area Voter Information Center (as of 1984, the Voter Information Center) to encourage citizens to participate in government, held a “Government Day” and a “Journalism Day” for students in the Cleveland Public Schools, and established a newsletter and video to teach new voters the voting process.
During recent years, the LWV conducted studies on the effect of tax abatement on the finances of the Cleveland Public Schools (1997), presented a 1999 forum on campaign finance reform, and organized the State of Ohio’s youthvote2000 initiative. In 2007, LWV offices were at 850 Euclid Avenue. That same year, the League president was Penny Jeffrey, while Sharon McGraw served as executive director of the Education Fund.