Why I Joined The League
Nancy M. Neuman, President LWVUS, 1986-90; President LWVPA, 1975-77; President LWV of the Lewisburg Area, 1967-70
When my husband accepted a teaching position at Bucknell University, we moved from bustling Berkeley, California to tranquil Lewisburg, PA. My adjustment was not easy. Everyone seemed to know our business before we were introduced. The saleswoman at the appliance store reassured me: “at least you didn’t have to move all the way east.” Really? I didn’t have to explain where to deliver the washing machine: she already knew.
Then I was invited to a meeting of the Lewisburg LWV where I found women who were interested in my passion—politics—and spent no time examining my biography. With a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in political science I expected to get involved with local politics. The county was dominated by one political party, leaving little competition in elections, so involvement in partisan activity did not attract me. At that first League meeting the group was discussing an issue most people find dull, but about which I care passionately: redistricting.
In CA we paid a graduated state income tax. In PA the taxes were confusing: we were stunned to be assessed occupation and per capita taxes. The League helped me navigate the quirks of local and state taxes.
November came and I discovered that PA made little effort to educate me as a new voter. In CA, the county board of elections mailed a sample ballot, directions to my polling place, information on absentee voting, and a booklet (mostly written by the LWVCA) with pros and cons on ballot issues. I turned to the Lewisburg League for information.
I was hooked. But I didn’t join the League until I went on the board nine months later, because the treasurer told me not to pay dues until the next fiscal year. I could easily have lost interest in the meantime. I am proud that my League has changed its approach, recognizing that members are the prime asset of a grassroots organization, and not a financial liability. That has paid off: our League now has the most members in its history.
My first responsibility on the board was election laws, a perfect assignment. And like so many other new League members, I was elected president a year later. We studied, discussed, adopted positions, took action, and developed publications on issues to educate the community. As always we published a Voters Guide and Facts for Voters.
Three years later I was asked to serve on the LWVPA board. My son was six months old. I wasn’t sure I could accept, but the state League accommodated me. They gave me an assignment I could do from home—editing the LWV Voter, which was produced by a local printer (in linotype). The LWVPA also offered to defray a small portion of my child care expense when I traveled to state board meetings in Philadelphia.
When our family moved to England for a year, I took a trunk full of research on PA state government. I wrote the first edition of Key to the Keystone State when our daughters were in school and our son was napping. Electronic mail did not exist. If I needed a fact check I could wait as long as six weeks to get an answer from LWVPA.
I returned to the state board and worked on issues I care deeply about: social policy, civil rights, and women’s equality. Eventually I became President. After my election to a second term, the LWVUS President asked me to take on the national Equal Rights Amendment campaign. It would not be a board position so I could devote full time to fundraising and organizing. I struggled with the decision, but it was made easier knowing that our Vice President Margot Hunt would be an excellent LWVPA President. Off I went, naively assuming that someone from PA, which had ratified a state Equal Rights Amendment in its constitution, could prove that the ERA was a good thing. I was not prepared for a struggle against forces not unlike those that prevented womens’ suffrage from victory for more than a century. Like everything else that happened to me in the League, I learned and grew.
Later I was elected to the LWVUS board and served in many capacities: from advocacy and membership chair to strategic planning. When I was elected national President I was awed with a sense of history—as one of a continuum of Presidents dating to the suffrage years. My favorite part of the job was meeting with state and local Leagues. I am grateful for the leadership skills I developed in the League, the friendships I made, and the opportunities the League gave me to travel across this country and internationally.
It’s easy to take for granted how much the League has accomplished as a training ground for leaders, especially women. The League’s expertise in promoting democratic values, public education, and full voter participation is needed now more than ever.
A footnote: when I started researching my father’s ancestors about 10 years ago. I was surprised to discover that my 3rd great grandfather, a native of Chester County, bought a farm in Lewisburg in 1792. Little did I know that when we moved to Lewisburg that I had come home.