It was my great pleasure to greet our guests and say a few words about the League at our Women Making History celebration at Schulenburg's historic Senglemann Hall on Sunday, March 12, 2023. I could hardly contain my excitement as I stepped to the stage and looked out over the roomful of people, enjoying each other, this special place, and the occasion we were here to celebrate! We opened with the Joyce Rouse's amazing "Standing on the Shoulders" song and video - such a perfect way to begin! After the video concluded, I stepped to the microphone and began...
Today, we are standing on the shoulders of the women who have come before us and building a powerful foundation for the next generations of women. Here we are on this beautiful spring day at Schulenburg’s historic Senglemann Hal to celebrate Women's History Month and some of the Women Making History in our South Central Texas area.
The League of Women Voters was founded on a belief in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy. That's been our vision since 1920 when the League of Women Voters was founded by leaders of the women's suffrage movement. For 100 years, the League has been a nonpartisan, activist, grassroots organization that believes that the full participation of women is a foundational tenet of democracy. As we look into our next hundred years, the League aims to help build the next generation of women leaders while honoring the courageous trailblazing women from the past whose stories have too often gone untold.
The League is new to our community – founded in 2018 by five women meeting around a kitchen table – but it is not new in Texas. Our State League – the League of Women Voters of Texas – was founded on October 19, 1919 at San Antonio's Saint Anthony Hotel – almost a year before the 19th amendment that gave women the right to vote was adopted. In some communities in Texas, women's groups that had worked on suffrage quickly became League of Women Voters chapters – San Antonio, Georgetown, El Paso, Galveston, Denton, Texas City, Houston, and Dallas, to name a few. Today there are 32 active local Leagues in Texas, with three more now forming - together representing more than 3000 Texas women.
Our State League President, Joyce LeBombard, had planned to be with us today but was unable to come due to a family emergency. She sent greetings, however, and wanted to let you know that our chapter, representing five South Central Texas rural counties – Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Gonzales and Lavaca – is seen as a trailblazer, inspiring others in rural Texas to form League of Women Voters chapters. In the Texas League world, I am proud to say that rural is now super cool! Through a new Texas League Rural Caucus, we are connecting with sister Leagues in the Hill Country, the Brazos Valley, the Rio Grande Valley, and the Texas panhandle to share information and explore what we can do together on issues of concern to our rural communities such as access to broadband, and the sustainability of our rural hospitals. Building these connections is exciting, for we know that we are always stronger together. Nevertheless, the top priority for us is building a League here in South Central Texas that is an asset to our community and has staying power for the next 100 years.
So, what unites us in Texas and with the more than 800 Leagues all across the United States? We are inspired by a vision of a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge, and the confidence to participate. This vision is what inspired me to get involved, so let me say it again……a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate. All Leagues are membership organizations that are women-led and volunteer-run. We are bound by our founder's commitment to doing our work in a nonpartisan way – meaning that we never – and have never – supported or opposed candidates or political parties at any level of government. Leagues share a desire to build a community of active citizens, seek common ground, and approach differences with curiosity, respect, and the assumption of best intentions –working toward our mission of empowering voters, defending democracy, and supporting girls and women as civic participants and leaders.
Many of you may associate the Leagues with elections – as we are particularly visible at those times – encouraging people to register to vote, reminding people of election dates, and distributing the nonpartisan Voters Guides we produce. But our League also has – from our very beginning – looked for opportunities in March – Women's History Month – to remember and appreciate the women on whose shoulders we stand. In our first year, we gathered at the Lavaca Historical Museum to remember women in our personal lives – our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, teachers, mentors, role models, and friends – who inspired us to be our best selves. And today, we are here to draw attention to and celebrate how many women are now serving our area as Mayors.
We came to our focus for today through a serendipitous conversation. I was havin coffee with Donald Jirkovsky, Director of the the University of Houston at Victoria’s Center for Regional Collaboration, when he mentioned that Cuero Mayor Sara Post Meyer regularly meets with other women mayors in the area. My curiosity was piqued. How many woman mayors are there? I knew that my town, Hallettsville, is being served by a woman mayor – Mayor Alice Jo Summers - and began to look further. When I discovered that 8 towns currently have women mayors, I began to ask people – did you realize….? The answer was generally "no" – followed by the comment – "isn't that amazing"? That brought us today, with our purpose being to encourage more people to say, "isn't that amazing", and make the important ways that woman are serving our community more visible.
As we reached out and talked with the Mayors, we asked about their journey to Mayor – not about their positions or the usual things that a politician might be asked – but about them, as women, what brought to run for Mayor and what has sustained them through their years of service. In at least one case, we heard that no one had ever asked them about this before! Can you imagine! We are pleased to be the organization that took the time to ask them about their journey and lift up their stories as an inspiration to others.
We wish we could share these conversations with you, but what we can do today is share some of the highlights. Let me ask each Mayor or their representative to come forward when we share your story, and for all of us to hold our applause until the end....
At this point, League members stepped up to share short profiles of each mayor and give them each a plaque, recogizing them as a Woman Making History. Following these presentations, Helen Niesner introduced the amazing Arleas Upton Kea, our guest speaker for the day, who kept us on the edge of our seats with her inspiring remarks about her life and her encouragement to our League and our community to keep going!
What a wonderful afternoon!