History of LWV in Marquette County

The formal history of the League of Women Voters in Marquette County, Michigan, officially began fifty years ago with the first organizational meeting, which was held on September 19, 1968, on the campus of Northern Michigan University. The original (provisional) Marquette County League of Women Voters had 46 charter members. It was the 39th League in Michigan, and was one of four units formed in the Upper Peninsula (along with chapters in Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie, and the Copper Country).

But one must go further back in time to fully appreciate the early roots of the League in the Upper Peninsula. A recent piece in The Mining Journal applauded the League for its work in getting out the vote and educating the public in the lead-up to the 2018 election, but also reflected on the efforts and inspiration of the U.P women who marched and lobbied and organized in support of women’s suffrage in the early 1900’s. Led by Abby Roberts, the charismatic daughter of one of Marquette’s most famous “founding fathers,” John M. Longyear, the Woman’s Welfare Club, as the early local suffrage group was called, sent a delegation to the Michigan State Equal Suffrage Convention in Saginaw in 1915, and participated in speaking engagements, parades, and other activities that culminated in the ratification of the 19th Amendment. So the unit owes much of its contemporary success to the groundwork laid by the earlier generations.

The modern iteration of the Marquette County League undertook a number of important activities during their heyday. One of their first major projects was voter registration. Over the next 38 years, the Marquette County LWV held candidate forums, compiled voter guides in concert with the local paper, The Mining Journal, and in 1969, shortly after the chapter began functioning, held a fund drive for the “Know Your County” booklet project, which outlined the functions and operation of governmental units throughout the county. That same Fall, the Marquette County LWV took up the question of “Taxation and the Financing of Public Education in Michigan,” an in-depth study of the options for paying for schools through income, property or other taxes and the appropriate allocation of that responsibility among federal, state and local units of government.

In 1994, the Marquette County LWV hosted a well-received exhibit at the Historical Society Museum entitled “Remember the Ladies” celebrating the struggle for women’s rights, the founding of the League, and the passage of the 19th Amendment, as well as honoring some of the pioneers who had been instrumental in getting the League up and running in the U.P.

By its tenth anniversary, the unit had grown to over 100 members. At its peak, the Marquette County Unit boasted 120 members, but the numbers dwindled as more and more women joined the work force, leaving less time for volunteering in the community. And with fewer and fewer young women participating in the League, it became more difficult to carry out the group’s mission and goals. The decision was made – reluctantly – to disband the Marquette County LWV in August, 2006. As one member of the earlier incarnation ruefully noted, “People are just not particularly concerned with this kind of stuff anymore,” then added wistfully: “Maybe it will arise that they’ll need us one more time, and hopefully someone else can jump in.”

And so the occasion did arise, the need was evident, and in 2016-2017, the time was ripe for resurrecting the Marquette County League. There was a small but growing group that were ready to be the “someone else” who jumped in and provided the spark that ignited the revival of a Marquette County LWV. And the legacy and mentorship of the original chapter has been crucial to the current unit’s immediate acceptance. Thanks to the solid reputation and respect among members of the public, the media, and the power structure which the earlier League had earned through its diligence, non-partisanship, and community involvement over almost four decades, the new League has found the welcome mat out wherever it goes.

Launching the League – Reasons for Reestablishing LWV in Marquette County

On April 26, 2017 five women and one man met with representatives from LWVMI and LWV of Delta County to begin a mentoring relationship and to officially begin the LWV of Delta County, Marquette County Unit. These six people were part of a larger group that gathered and organized following the November 2016 elections. The group, called Forward Action Michigan UP (FAMUP), formed in Marquette to provide a venue for sharing and support among members and to discover and organize opportunities for action and for service to the community. FAMUP was the forum where discussions began to reestablish a LWV in Marquette County. The desire for a League stemmed from a general sense that politics and community were feeling more and more divisive all of the time. People wanted to find a way to work together and to work across differences. They believed that the LWV was a way to do this. The group was seeking meaningful action that could create bridges, not barriers and have a positive impact on democracy that was, in some ways, seemingly threatened. FAMUP provided regular meetings and a growing social media base to share information with others of the growing interest and desire to reestablish a local League.

During the Spring of 2017, the emerging collective met in small groups in local restaurants and members’ homes. Three members from the previous LWV in Marquette joined the ranks and provided a valuable link to the past and to the League’s mission and principles. These women were an important source of support and encouragement for the newly developing group.

With help from Delta County mentors, the Marquette County geographical unit held its first public information meeting in July 2017 at the local Peter White Library where 37 community members attended and learned more about the new League. Nine new members joined, bringing total membership to 22. Due in part to the stellar reputation of the former LWV group in the area and in part to the ongoing organizing activities, the Marquette County Unit was receiving and benefiting from strong community support and media interest. The local organization was well on its way and was appreciating and capitalizing on the guidance from original members, Delta County mentors and newly assigned mentors from LWVMI.

The Marquette County Unit was ready to begin action and service in the community with well-established LWV voter service projects. Only four months after the geographic unit was created, it produced its first Vote411.org voter guide. That was quickly followed by organized voter registration and education activities and a candidate forum for the Marquette City Commission on October 18, 2017. The LWV was back in Marquette County.