The area’s first League of Women Voters chapters began within a year from the date Minnesota ratified the 19th Amendment prohibiting voting discrimination on the basis of sex. On that day — Sept. 8, 1919 — Clara Ueland, the first LWV Minnesota president, declared: “Today is the commencement rather than the end of our work.”

By early 1920, women in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties were organizing local leagues. However, memberships in both chapters eventually faded until in the late 1930s, when an active league was again formed in Nicollet County.

Its early members visited farms and registered new women voters, according to reports in Nicollet County Historical Society’s archives. Window signs were posted proudly after a woman from a household had registered to vote.

Membership in that version of the organization also faded. A few decades passed before the League again started up in the region.

When the League was reborn locally in 1963, there were St. Peter and Mankato chapters. Both held on to their members and were able to celebrate their 25-year anniversaries.

The Feb. 22, 1963, minutes for a pre-organizational meeting of the League of Women Voters-Mankato read: “The women present were welcomed by Mrs. E.J. Diefenbach of the Edina League, who had assisted with some of the pre-organizational coffee parties.” Coffee aside, other members of the Edina LWV quickly got down to business, describing how the League functions, its goals and methods. After some back and forth, the 40 women present voted Mrs. Kenneth (Arline) Brown temporary chairman.

Brown served for a year and was followed by fellow organizer Barbara Brown.

A similar meeting took place in St. Peter on April 25, 1963 — this one sponsored by members of the Bloomington League. That gathering quickly elected Mrs. James Hauan president of the newly formed League of Women Voters of St. Peter.

The late Betty Nelson was a member of the Mankato League. She wrote about the League’s history in her April 1988 Free Press column, “Milepost 55”:

“High on its first list of priorities for study were voter education, environmental concerns such as water quality and government organization at all levels. Global issues were topped by efforts toward world peace (at that time the League of Nations) and the problems of emerging nations. All of these are important issues for the League today.”

The Mankato League of Women Voters disbanded in 2009 when its last president moved to Duluth. Two of its members then joined the League of Women Voters of St. Peter, which continues today.

This nonpartisan yet political organization still encourages citizens to play an active role in government. Membership is open to anyone 16 years of age or older.

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