On May 28, 1936, 30 Marin County women met at the Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club and organized a “League of Women Voters in Marin”. The minutes for the first four years reveal that the annual treasury ranged from $1.15 to $40.17. Issues for study in 1939 were relief (welfare), health insurance, child welfare, and education. The Health Study chair reported that an accredited hospital in Santa Cruz was providing food patient care for $2.67 per day.
The League began to observe the Board of Supervisors meetings and immediately became concerned about the need for a county health department. The members also realized that the county government needed to be unified, with the improved services necessary to handling the increasing population and other changes brought about by the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge.
These goals were achieved with League founding member Vera Schultz becoming the first woman elected to the Board of Supervisors, having to endure hearing them tell her “they would get along better with her if she wouldn’t keep bringing up new ideas!”
During the first ten years the minutes tell us that the top issues focused on local government. The minutes were sometimes typed and sometimes handwritten; they were always hand signed by the recording secretary. The minutes were kept in a three-ringed black binder that measured five by seven inches. We don’t know the first names of most of these women who began our League; they were known as Mrs. John Irving, Mrs. George Engles, etc.
The action and study items approved in 1940-1941 demonstrate the League’s enduring focus on local government: (1) integrate state and county agencies to promote effective administration of public assistance programs; (2) support a Marin County public health department; (3) improve public personnel; and (4) organize county offices for efficient administration.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the minutes reflect concerns regarding local defense. The normal program was suspended in order to assist the war effort. Under the leadership of president Vera Schultz, League members provided assistance to service families and help train speakers on “consumer interests and public defense”. Some of the topics addressed were protection of school children during air raids, information on how to recognize the presence of poison gas, and the handling and disarming of bombs.
Over the years the League has always focused on providing public forums for candidates running for elected office and written materials on state and local propositions. It has continued to monitor the operations of local governing bodies and advocate for changes they need to make in the processes they use to be more open, accessible and responsive to the needs of all members of the Marin community.
What have changed are our methods of communication. We’ve moved from typewriters and stencils to computers, web pages, smart phone and the “cloud”. We’ve enlarged our election focus from just live debates to televised, streaming and on-demand debates. And, some years ago, we invited men to join, and their contributions have been growing ever since.
Currently, we have committees—educating and advocating—in the areas of education, campaign finance/governance, justice, transportation/land use/housing, healthcare, and, of course, voter service. We also have a monthly Action general membership meeting often with guest speakers and where committee chairs report on their activities. All committees regularly feature experts from throughout Marin speaking on current topics. We’re still going strong in 2016—80 years old!