The following article is reprinted with the permission of the Dominion Post and was originally published December 2, 2012.
BY CASSIE SHANER The Dominion Post
Nicole Bowman/The Dominion Post Graphic
Free babysitting led to nearly a lifetime of political activism for Shirley Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum moved to Morgantown more than 45 years ago as a young mother with two education related degrees.
She joined the League of Women Voters to stimulate her mind, after learning that the organization offered free babysitting at daytime meetings.
“I wanted to talk to people,” Rosenbaum said. “I had advanced degrees, and babies do not talk. … I thought this was wonderful.”
The league is a national, nonpartisan political organization founded in 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.
The Morgantown league was formed in 1947 and renamed in the 1970s to include Monongalia County.
“As always, our focus is to promote citizen participation in all levels of government and provide information to voters,” former president Lyndell Millechia said in an email.
Millechia said many homemakers joined in the 1970s, often because of the free babysitting.
“This was a way to keep their brains active,” she said. “This was something they could do. They felt it was important to help the community.”
Millechia joined early in the “Me” decade, which brought many changes for the league. Members stopped being referred to by their husband’s names, and in 1973, the national charter was altered to open membership to men.
Rosenbaum’s son, Jonathan, is one of eight men among the league’s 55 members. But he never hesitated to join because of his gender.
“There is a historic reason why we are called the ‘League of Women Voters,’ ” Rosenbaum said. “The commitment level that pushed for the passage of the 19th Amendment is still very alive, which is why many people remain members for their whole life. As more men are beginning to catch on to the advantages of being members in this dynamic league, that historic composition of mostly women is steadily changing.”
About half of the Morgantown-Monongalia County league’s members are retired. Like Millechia, many women who were active members in their younger years have increased their involvement after retiring.
The league’s focus at the national level is to recruit retirees who want to give back to the community. But locally, the league hopes to boost membership by attracting younger members.
One of the league’s younger members, First Vice President Kelly Palmer, joined after speaking at a 2006 meeting.
“After listening to their objectives and goals, I decided I wanted to be a part of this great group of [mostly] women,” she said. “I am an active member of my political party, and we tend to focus on candidates more than the issues. With the league being nonpartisan, we focus on issues only and not specific candidates.”
Past issues addressed by the Morgantown-Monongalia County league include charter revision for the city of Morgantown , comprehensive planning at the county level, land use and solid waste management.
Local issues slated for review and discussion in 2012-’13 include the number of county commissioners, Morgantown’s vote-bymail process and legislation related to Marcellus shale gas extraction.
“We’re always working on keeping the health of citizens first and foremost when it comes to clean air and water,” Millechia said.
The Dominion Post file photos
The League of Women Voters frequently hosts forums, in which candidates answer audience members’ questions. The forums are free and open to the public.
The league is well known for its nonpartisan candidate forums, held each election year for a variety of races.
About 75 people attended a forum leading up to May’s primary election.
But members also provide information to voters about candidates and elections, prepare a guide to government officials and host legislative forums.
Six members, including Millechia, are or have been elected officials.
Many members have also served on local boards and commissions, such as the Monongalia County Solid Waste Authority, Morgantown Library Board and Morgantown Board of Zoning Appeals.
“Some people think, ‘If I’m in the league, I can’t run for office’ or ‘I can’t campaign.’ It’s nonpartisan,” Millechia said.
If he had to participate in just one community organization, Jonathan Rosenbaum said he would choose the League of Women Voters.
Rather than paying their dues and disappearing, most members are actively involved with the organization.
“On a per-member basis, the league is many times more effective than much larger organizations I have been involved with,” he said.Right out of the box, the league is about civic engagement skills, it’s part of the culture of the League, and it grows within you. Combine that with the league’s broad based consensus issues platform, and you have a winner.
“With the league, I can pursue all the issues that are important to me in other organizations in an effective manner.”
A MEMBERSHIP MEETING open to the public will be held from 7-9 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Aull Center, next to the Morgantown Public Library. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will discuss voter ID issues. Refreshments will be served.
BY THE NUMBERS
55 — Members in the Morgantown-Monongalia County league 8 — Men who are members in the Morgantown-Monongalia league 44 — Regular dues for an individual member, in dollars 6 — Members who are or have been elected to public office
66 — Regular dues for two people in the same household, in dollars 22 — Dues this fall for a new individual member, in dollars 33 — Dues this fall for two new members in the same household, in dollars 4 — Local leagues in West Virginia
Bob Gay/The Dominion Post
A contingent of members from the League of Women Voters hold a meeting on Aug. 8 at Panera Bread.