Delta County League of Women Voters marks 100 years of women’s voting rights
ESCANABA — As America marks 100 years of women’s voting rights, one local group is rededicating itself to democracy in action.
The Delta County League of Women Voters was formed in the 1950s and over the years has worked to educate voters, study local issues and inspire members to run for public office.
In February, the league held a registration drive at Bay College that saw 51 students file papers with the county clerk to become some of the area’s newest voters.
“I think any citizen should seek out ways to be informed about their government and the people seeking governmental positions,” said Delta County LWV president Sue Scheeneman.
She described the local league as “a small group doing a big job,” with a current membership of 21. Men and students 16 and up are welcome to join.
It all began, says Scheeneman, in 1951 when Escanaba school board member Dorothy Lindquist organized a meeting to “explore the possibility of forming a League in Escanaba. They met in the old city hall with about 30 women present.”
The group chose officers that day, including Clara Mosenfelder as president and Mrs. Torval (Clara) Strom as vice president. Scheeneman noted Mosenfelder is still an LWV member today, having been honored at 50 years of service with a lifetime membership.
The first project for the league was publication of a Know Your Town booklet, which became a Know Your County version when the organization expanded its scope to all of Delta County in 1970.
“At times throughout our history we’ve done studies on local issues,” said Scheeneman, “such as the (Escanaba municipal) power plant. The purpose of any study would be to provide advocacy for or against governmental actions.”
Known for its nonpartisan candidate forums and voter guides, LWV has recently stimulated interest in public affairs by partnering with Bay College’s political science curriculum. “We try to be visible,” said Scheeneman, “with our public programs, voter guides, voter registration and our (fundraiser) used book sale.”
This year’s book sale, part of the annual Waterfront Arts Festival, fell victim to COVID precautions.
Likewise with the league’s monthly meetings, which migrated from the college to the online platform Zoom. Attendance is down a bit, said Scheeneman, because “I think it’s too easy to forget about what’s happening outside of your four walls. Zoom is a good option but it can’t replace meeting in person.”
Because of the pandemic, she added, an in-person candidate forum is unlikely. LWV of Delta County is exploring hosting a virtual forum in late September or early October.
The human touch is part of the league’s traditional appeal, said Scheeneman.
“I became involved several years ago. A good friend of mine was a member and talked about it a lot. I saw it as a way to be more informed and to hear opinions other than my own.
“The League provides the opportunity for self-education, community involvement, doing public good and making friends.”
She said LWV has been watching recent trends, including the selection of the first African-American female on a major presidential slate.
“While the League never supports or endorses candidates, we celebrate that a woman of color has been named to a presidential ticket for the first time in history.” And, Scheeneman reminded, “The 19th Amendment ratified in August of 1920 gave white women the vote, but women of color were not guaranteed the same until (President Johnson signed) the Voting Rights Act in August of 1965.”
The League of Women Voters has advanced gender equity at the local level.
“We’ve had members that ran for public office and some did get elected,” said Scheeneman, including Mosenfelder, Elnora Vader and Jeanne Rose. Founder Lindquist was also a longtime trustee on the Bay College board besides serving on the Escanaba board of education.
For the time being, the mechanics of voting is a red-hot topic for LWV.
“Our biggest issues are educating voters about utilizing Vote411.org, absentee and mail-in voting, voting early and mailing ballots right away,” according to Scheeneman. Also, though the Michigan primary is over, “more education is needed to explain voting a straight ticket.”
The state has made it easier to track one’s ballot this year by going online to mi.gov/vote and selecting “your voter information.”
Meanwhile, the Michigan Women Forward exhibit on women’s suffrage entitled Petticoat Patriots planned for Delta County has been pushed back.
“We were to have it on display in October, but we’re considering February or March 2021… Another victim of COVID-19.”