Women Voters Cover the Forks on Centennial of 19th Amendment

Pictured Above: Supporters of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons held a march in East Hampton for the 2017 Centennial of women getting the right to vote in New York State. This year, celebrations of the Centennial of women getting the vote nationwide will be more muted because of the pandemic, but The League’s local chapter is still growing, now serving Shelter Island and the North Fork.

This August marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, and it’s also the centennial of the establishment of the League of Women Voters. 

While the local League of Women Voters chapter had a lot of celebrating it was planning to do this year, much of it has been scuttled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But one big aspect of the League’s work here will endure beyond this landmark year — in the waning days of 2019, the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons got permission from the national League of Women Voters to become the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island and North Fork, expanding its voter services, education and debate services to both Shelter Island and Southold towns.

The League, which had initially planned to hold afternoon teas in several locations on both forks throughout the month of August, is instead celebrating with Zoom presentations throughout the month in collaboration with libraries on the North Fork, Shelter Island and the South Fork.

The expansion of the South Fork’s very active chapter was a long time coming, said Chapter Co-president Estelle Gellman in a late July interview.

“In 2016, we were contacted by some women on the North Fork who were very interested in what they called ‘reforming a chapter,’” said Ms. Gellman. “There had been a chapter on the North Fork many years ago. Co-president Susan Wilson and I had gone out there several times — at one meeting over 30 women came — to talk to them about how to form a chapter. The problem at that time was, the League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization. We can’t take any positions for a candidate or a party. Our members can be active, but our board and people with visible roles in The League cannot. There were some women who were very active with political parties before the 2016 campaign, and they didn’t want to give up their activities in the parties. There weren’t enough people left to form a board.”

During the same time, she said, members of the Shelter Island League of Women Voters had approached the South Fork chapter about merging.

“They didn’t have enough people to really get into some of the environmental issues they were dealing with,” she said, “and they also had a lack of enough people to do the administrative work.”

In mid-2019, the South Fork chapter got permission for the expansion from the New York State League of Women Voters, followed by approval from the national League near the end of 2019. The way the charter’s revision is written, Riverhead isn’t included in the area it now covers, said Ms. Gellman, but “we would not turn away anyone from Riverhead.”

The chapter is actively seeking members on the North Fork and Shelter Island to work on voter registration drives and planning environmental forums, and would like to establish candidate debates on the North Fork. It currently organizes some of the most thorough and well-run debates in both East Hampton and Southampton Towns.

More information on joining is online at lwvhamptons.org or by calling 631.324.4637. Men have also been welcome to join The League since 1973.

“We would love people on our sustainability committee and our health committee,” said Ms. Gellman. “The voter services committee would love to have people from the North Fork so we can do more on voter registration and education, and our education committee, which works with young people, would be glad to involve some of the schools on the North Fork. We really want to encourage young women to get involved in the political process and start thinking about running for office.”

The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons was visibly active throughout 2017, the centennial of the year women were granted the right to vote in New York State, proudly dressed in white and wearing yellow sashes that said “Votes for Women” in a parade through East Hampton Village and at other events throughout the year. 

This year’s celebrations of the centennial of the 19th Amendment can’t help but look different. There will be no tea and finger sandwiches, as had been hoped, unless you make them yourselves, and a computer is essential. But The League is encouraging participants to get into the spirit by wearing white and their “Votes for Women” sashes, if they have them.

The League’s celebrations kick off on Monday, Aug. 3 with a Zoom program by historian Antonia Petrash on “To Win the Vote: A Lifetime of Struggle,” on the Southold and Shelter Island libraries’ websites at 2 p.m. The program will be repeated on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 3 p.m. on the websites of the East Hampton and Westhampton libraries. The first presentation will honor women in elected office on the North Fork and Shelter Island, and the second presentation will honor elected women on the South Fork.

The 19th Amendment was officially ratified by Congress on Aug. 18, 1920, and The League is celebrating with a “Ladies of Liberty” musical revue by Valerie di Lorenzo on the website of Southampton’s Rogers Memorial Library on Monday, Aug. 17 at 5:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, Aug. 19 at noon, League of Women Voters member Martha Potter will give a talk, also on the Rogers Memorial Library website, on “The 19th Amendment and the Fight for Universal Suffrage.”    — BY

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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