LWVSPA Celebrates Centennial of Women’s Right to Vote

On August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment to the US Constitution passed, giving American women the right to vote. Now 100 years later, Linsey Grove, president of the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area (LWVSPA), says the best way for women to celebrate this milestone is to exercise their own right to vote. She also points to the interesting similarities between this year’s election, which is taking place during the global COVID-19 pandemic, and what was happening during the women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century.

Ratification of the 19th amendment followed two devastating world events: the 1918 flu and World War I, both of which severely reduced the population of young men and created a labor shortage in the US. Women stepped up, took a more visible role in society, and joined the workforce, all of which helped advance the cause of women’s right to vote. Like yesterday’s suffragettes, Linsey sees women today stepping up to confront issues in society. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,” she said.

The League of Women Voters was founded in Chicago six months before the 19th amendment became ratified. There are now chapters in every state, as well as the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands. The St. Petersburg Area chapter was founded in 1939 and currently has just under 400 members, making it among the top 10 chapters nationwide.

From the very beginning, the League of Women Voters has played a unique role in the democratic process. While the organization remains strictly nonpartisan – it does not support any particular candidates or political parties – the group believes that “voting is a fundamental right and all eligible voters should have equal opportunity to exercise that right.” The organization’s mission statement – “Empowering voters. Defending democracy.” – underscores its work to register voters, provide voters with election information through voter guides, and to host candidate forums and debates.

Locally, the LWVSPA is doing its part. In 2018, the chapter relaunched an updated Pinellas County Voter Guide to help voters learn more about candidates and issues on the ballot. More recently, with voting-in-person complications due to COVID-19, Linsey reports the chapter is heavily involved in the Vote By Mail campaign to make sure everyone has equal access to voting. The last day to request a mail ballot is October 24th. You can request a mail ballot online from the supervisor of elections website www.votepinellas.com/VoteByMail.

While the League of Women Voters is best known for issues related to voting, the organization also tackles other important civic and social issues, including campaign-finance reform, education, gun safety, health care, immigration, reproductive rights, environmental sustainability, food politics, immigration, and social justice. Locally, the St. Pete area chapter is also working with several Florida coalitions to expand access to solar power.

St. Pete League masks.

In addition, the group is partnering with local women’s organizations like NOW, Athena Society, and the Business and Professional Women of St. Petersburg and Pinellas to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. Linsey reports that the St. Pete City Council passed a resolution in support of the ERA in August 2019. She hopes “that Florida will be the state to push ratification of the ERA over the top to make it the law of the land.”

To raise awareness about issues of social justice, the St. Pete area chapter collaborates with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority St. Petersburg Alumnae on a monthly series called Coffee in Common. “We invite white women and women of color to listen and learn from each other on topics of race and politics,” said Linsey.

Old Northeast resident Ama Appiah and Crescent Lake resident Ken Wrede are current LWVSPA board members. It’s interesting to note that both of them would not necessarily have been welcomed back in the days when the local chapter was founded in 1939. Fortunately, times have changed.

Ama is an attorney and was elected to the LWVSPA board of directors in 2019. She received her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and her law degree from Albany Law School. She’s a native of Niagara Falls, New York, and moved to St. Pete in 2003. After working as a program attorney for both the Sixth Judicial and Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Programs she opened her own law practice. Ama handles criminal, civil, and family-law appeals, as well as immigration and entertainment law.

Coffee and Conversation with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Ken has a diverse background in international business, international security, consulting, and startup businesses. He has a Master of Science in telecommunications from Golden Gate University and an Executive Master of Business Administration degree from Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales d’Paris (HEC Paris) with an emphasis in innovation and entrepreneurship. He spent 27 years working internationally in South Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, and France before moving to St. Pete in 2017. He has been a board member of the LWVSPA since 2018 and is currently serving as the secretary.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, LWVSPA hosted the Suffragette Shuffle, at the historic St. Pete Shuffleboard Court in February – just before the pandemic. Live jazz, food, cocktails, and games made the evening a great success. There were many other events in the planning stages, said Linsey, but COVID-19 has disrupted all of the plans. However, membership meetings still continue online.

A LWVSPA voter registration event.

Linsey has been on the board of the LWVSPA since 2017 and was named president in 2019. She was recently re-elected for a second term for 2020-2021. She also serves as the project co-lead for the LWVSPA Engage St. Pete initiative with Dr. Julie Kessel and co-chairs the Empowering Pinellas Youth Collaborative as a part of her activity on the LWVSPA Social Justice Action Team. She’s a visiting instructor and program coordinator for the Health Sciences program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Looking to the future, Linsey said she is optimistic. She envisions “the next 100 years as a time when democracy is working for everyone.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/LWVSPA or www.lwv.org/local-leagues/lwv-st-petersburg-area.