Founded in Chicago
in 1920 by Carrie Chapman Catt
and other leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage
Association (NAWSA) who had led the campaign for the recently ratified Nineteenth Amendment
. Since it was now illegal for states to deny the vote on the basis of gender, Catt and her associates hoped that women voters would become a potent force in national politics.
From the beginning, it was not an easy road. League member differed on whether women should exercise their new found voting powers independently or through existing politcal parties/
Catt argued for the latter, arguing "Success can only be found on the inside" and "You won't be so welcome there., but that is the place to be." Other leaders such as Jane Addams argued that women's special voice would be lost in the world of party politics. Members that supported her differed amongst themselves also, some arguing for the formation of their own political party and some arguing that they should remain removed and above all partisan politics. It was finally agreed that the League would remain nonpartisan and support general programs of reform rather than support an independent political orqanization for women.
Dissension also continued within the League throughout the 1920's and 1930s, especially with an organization called the National Womens Party (NWP). The NWP was a small but highly visible group that focused almost exclusively on women's rights, arguing for a consitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for both genders. (I believe that argument is still being made in some form or another to this day). The League however felt this amendment, should it be passed, would be harmful to the special needs of women and continued to work for a broader range of social reforms, only some of which specifically targeted women as the beneficiaries of the reform. "We are not feminists primarily, we are citizens" was one of the statements made by the League.
As the decades went by, the League continued in its efforts to educate and mobilize public opinion on issues of general interest. They gradually expanded their scope of concern to include issues covering local, state and national matters. The Leauge, it seems, was not formed to carry on the traditions of feminism, but to carry out the highest interest of both sexes. Starting in 1974, men were admitted as full members.