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A Brief History of the League of Women Voters of Broward County

Traces of League activity in the Fort Lauderdale area appear soon after women’s federal enfranchisement was granted in 1920. Mentions of a “Fort Lauderdale League of Women Voters” and a “Broward County League of Women Voters” appear in local papers as early as 1922. These early groups were likely unaffiliated and short lived, but they are evidence of the long history of women’s commitment to voting rights, voter education, and good government in Broward County.

There is no sustained coverage of or information about a local League in the area until the 1940s when Martha Kimball helped to found the first official Fort Lauderdale League of Women Voters. Kimball, pictured below, was previously the president of the State Suffrage Association in New Hampshire, and she also founded the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, the Women’s Club of Portsmouth, and the YMCA of Portsmouth. In 1960, Kimball was recognized by the Fort Lauderdale League of Women Voters as the group’s founder and became an honorary lifetime member.

Although Kimball’s initial spark helped to ignite interest, it was not until 1953 that the Fort Lauderdale League was able to maintain full local League status. According to internal documents, the Fort Lauderdale League of Women Voters had attained such status in 1947, but the group was dissolved after only a few short months due to “too few year-round residents interested in assuming leadership.” In October 1952, Audrey Orear and fourteen charter members began re-establishing the local chapter. They created a “Pre-Provisional Ft. Lauderdale League of Women Voters” and began working to fulfill the requirements for full Local League status. In January 1953, the local group graduated from “pre-provisional” to “provisional status,” an occasion which was celebrated at the Lago Mar Hotel where Orear invited women attendees “interested in good government from a non-partisan standpoint” to join the local league. The group continued its efforts to increase membership, fundraise, and work toward full status. By June 1953, when the first issue of the “Lauderdale League Letter” was printed, the Fort Lauderdale League of Women Voters had 56 members. In September, the Fort Lauderdale League was granted full status by the League of Women Voters of the United States.

(Martha Kimball, below, founder of the League of Women Voters of Broward County)

The first issue of the “Lauderdale League Letter” highlights the accomplishments of the fledgling but growing Fort Lauderdale League in its first year: They hosted a rally for the candidates for City Commission, conducted and published a candidates’ questionnaire, and completed a comprehensive survey of the city government. Additionally, local league members spoke before several civic groups on proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution and distributed over 1,000 copies of the State League’s brochure on the amendments.

At their first annual meeting, the provisional league voted to prioritize studies of the juvenile court, county home rule, and fee system for the 1953-1954 local current agenda.

During its first decade as a recognized local chapter, the Fort Lauderdale League of Women Voters studied and advocated on issues of great importance to the area, including the structure and operations of county government, the oversight of public welfare, the care and treatment of minors affected by mental health disorders, the need for quality schools, and the acquisition of lands for parks and recreation.

During this time, the Fort Lauderdale League grew substantially and began attracting members from surrounding cities. In 1965, members recommended revisions to their bylaws to change the name of their organization to the League of Women Voters of Broward County. In response to this recommendation, the Florida League warned that such a “change from a city to a county-wide league would expand the responsibility and the workload of the local league,” but the Leaguers of Broward County were ready, and the change of name was granted by the LWVUS in 1966.

 As a non-partisan political organization, the League of Women Voters of Broward county has never endorsed candidates or political parties, but the group has sought to advocate for the community through study and action on many pressing issues.

Over the years, the LWVBC has engaged in numerous local and state studies, including revision of and amendments to the State Constitution; reapportionment of county districts; environmental issues, specifically beach erosion, water resource management, waste management, recycling, and off-shore drilling; the privatization of public parks; farm workers; affordable housing; retention of judges; Port Everglades; gun safety; growth management; infant mortality; public education; children’s issues; and many others. The chapter was also instrumental in the development of a Broward County Charter and a county-wide public library system.

More recently, the Broward chapter has adopted positions to eliminate voter suppression and support voter registration of returning citizens, to monitor redistricting in Broward County, to monitor and support the Conversation of Water and Water Resources, to support the development and implementation of a regional climate change action plan for Southeast Florida, to monitor detention centers and support actions that encourage diversion and deflection programs in the Juvenile Justice System, to support traditional public schools, and to support efforts to education Broward residents on gun safety. In 2020, the League of Women Voters of Broward County numbers around 340 members, and it continues to grow.

— Written by Paige Banaji, PhD.

"Un-filing" the League of Women Voters of Broward County

Jamie Black, student intern in the History Department of the University of Central Florida, presents her research into the newsletters of LWV Broward of the past 60 years.

Presidents of the League of Women Voters of Broward County, 1952-present

1952-54 Audrey Orear

1954-56 Evelyn Wayne

1956-58 Jean Doyle

1958-60 Vi Deardon

1960-62 Vi Dunlevy

1962-64 Virginia Miller

1964-65 Norma Sawyer

1965-66 Majel Hogan

1966-68 Marilyn Kohner

1968-70 Nancy Tilchin

1970-72 Jeann Shanklin

1972-74 Carol Rist

1974-76 Sally Bromberg

1976-78 Jane Foss

1978-79 Pam Hackett

1979-80 Hana Rosenberg

1980-82 Peggy Potter

1982-84 Mimi Jones

1984-86 Joyce Cross

1986-88 Paula Carr

1988-90 Stephanie Pearson

1990-92 Lisa Wright

1992-94 Jane Gross

1994-96 Carol Smith

1996-97 Carol Smith and Johny Zadek

1997-98 Barbara Marx and Susan Starkey

1998-99 Barbara Marx

1999-2001 Priscilla Hawk

2001-02 Darlene Harris

2002-05 Petey Kaletta

2005-07 Margaret Wolter

2007-09 Marcia Barham

2009-11 Alice Levy

2011-12 Adrienne Kaltman

2013-15 Lynne Joshi

2015-17 Jocelyn Carter Miller

2017-18 Joanne Aye and Bonnie Gross

2018-19 Bradette Jepsen

2019-20 Katy Syed

2020-23 Monica Elliott

2023-24 Monica Elliott and Margie Rohrbach