League celebrates 50 years

Kittitas Valley League of Women Voters celebrated its 50th Anniversary April 27 at Hal Holmes Center, with about 60 in attendance.

A panel of accomplished women discussed subjects ranging from their first election to the strides women have made over the years. Speakers included Ann Murphy, president of the League of Women Voters of Washington; Laura Osiadacz, county commissioner; Nancy Lillquist, Ellensburg city council; Candace Hooper, Kittitas County superior court judge; and Katherine Murphy, secretary of the LWVWA board. KVLWV President Kathy Matlin welcomed the guests, and Gayl Curtiss moderated the discussion.

From the speech by moderator Gayl Curtiss:

As a territory, Washington could enact voter qualifications by legislative action under its Federal Organic Act. As early as 1854, a mere six years after the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, the first Washington Territorial Legislature considered enacting women’s suffrage. The amendment failed by only one vote.

This effort in Washington was followed by a series of successes and failures:

  • In 1883, before Washington became a state 6 years later, the Washington Territorial Legislature enacted women’s suffrage into law. However, the territory’s Supreme Court revoked suffrage after a gambler successfully argued that he was indicted by a jury not made up of his peers, since the grand jury included women.
  • In 1888, the legislature reenacted the suffrage law, but was again stymied by the territory’s Supreme Court, which ruled that the federal government had intended to put the word “male” before “citizenship” when establishing voter qualifications.
  • Women’s suffrage was on the state constitutional ballot in 1889 and lost by 19,000 votes.
  • After much lobbying by women, the ballot measure to amend Article VI of the state constitution won by a two-to-one margin, 10 years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed.

Washington’s first women legislators, ­­ Representatives Frances Axtell and Nena J. Croake­­ were elected in 1912. On March 22, 1920, in a Special Session called by Governor Louis Hart, the Washington State Legislature ratified the 19th Amendment to U.S. Constitution.

From 1993 to 2004, Washington led the nation in highest percentage of women elected to office, peaking in 2000 at 41%. In 2019, the proportion of seats held by women in state legislatures will be 28%. Washington is one of only four states in which women make up more than 40% of state legislators.

However, Kittitas County was not been a bastion of female accomplishments in at least one category. The first woman to become licensed to practice law in Kittitas County was Jo Anne Alumbaugh, who achieved this distinction in 1979. Alumbaugh, who went on to serve as an elected judge, was a former president and active member of the Kittitas Valley League of Women Voters.

LWVWA President Ann Murphy, left, presents 50th Anniversary award to KVLWV President Kathy Matlin.

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