My first contact with the League came more than 40 years ago during the 1960s in New Jersey. As a suburban mother of young children, I was very interested in the local public schools, which were struggling with the problem of de facto segregation. I went to a League of Women Voters meeting because a friend told me it was a group of women interested in local issues. And indeed they were. It was a stimulating meeting and I was quickly put on a committee for which I was supposed to get some information from the school board and call and report to other members. I was given a list of our membership and went home eager to get started.
After several phone calls to school officials, made in the midst of diaper-changing and toddler monitoring, I managed to dig out the information and turned to my list to let the others know. Unfortunately, I discovered the list of members included Mrs. John Schwarz, Mrs. William Moss, and Mrs. Bernard Scarpetti, but none of the names I recognized. Where were the Barbara, Helen, and Leona I had met? I had no idea who was who. It took me a few days to work up my courage to call the dignified, white-haired local president to ask why no one was identified by her first name.
“Oh, my dear” she told me. “Emily Post says a married woman should always be identified by her husband’s name, so we follow that. It’s the League Way.”
Well, eventually I figured out who was who, and we continued our meetings and our struggle, but it wasn’t long before my husband took a job in another state. We moved, I went back to school, and it was more than 30 years before I went to another League meeting and discovered the group had changed with the times.
I attended my first meeting in San Francisco soon after moving here in the mid-1990s. A notice in the neighborhood weekly newspaper alerted me to a League meeting at a local church that would explain the ballot measures for the upcoming election. This was the first time I had encountered the strange California practice of asking voters to decide a dozen ballot measures or more at every election.
At the meeting Alyson Washburn, who was probably League president at the time, impressed me with her knowledge of the measures and of the local political situation. She also gave me a membership brochure and I was hooked. I went on to attend the small Downtown Group meetings to discuss issues the League was wrestling with such as the support systems for grandparents raising young children and services to foster children as they age out of the system at 18. The League took positions on both of these.
Eventually I joined the Education Committee, which was trying to assess the problems in San Francisco schools. I worked with Nancy and Bill Zinn as well as several other League members who were veterans of the League Study methods. We interviewed teachers, administrators, union leaders, and representatives of community groups,. We organized a program meeting for members with the Acting Superintendent of Schools, the union president and others. When a new superintendent of schools was appointed we had high hopes many of the problems would be handled well, perhaps even solved.
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