Itching to get to work on the three-fold goals of political education, legislation and getting out the vote, they lost no time in establishing the "Pasadena Unit." Three months after the initial session, about 100 women convened March 31, 1936, at Pasadena's public meeting hall, La Casita del Arroyo, to launch the local League of Women Voters.
Working out of an office in the Women's City Club, the fledgling Pasadena LWV began setting an agenda that would endure throughout its history. While city government and children would continue to top the League's agenda, eradication of gender and racial discrimination in housing, education and government also ranked high in LWV priorities. Each decade saw the League addressing these issues.
In its first four years, the new League provided a steady influence in healing wounds of a nasty recall over paving-contract scandals. Despite its pledge to leave local issues to the Pasadena Civic League established 25 years earlier in 1911, the Pasadena LWV also was instrumental in a "street-trader law" that protected youths who hawked newspapers on city streets.
In the 1940s, a "Know Your Town" study that covered housing, health, financing, planning led to League-guided tours of City Hall, and the appointment of two women to the Planning Commission.
"The boys at City Hall were made very much aware that there was an organization of high-minded, low heeled ladies on the barricades," said a past president from the 1950s.
Continuing on the equality and good government front in the 1950s, the League urged the formation of a Redevelopment Agency to address blighted residential areas, notably west of Fair Oaks Avenue and south of Green Street. The League also published a pamphlet, "The Perfect City," to help citizens understand the need for city planning and creation of a General Plan as a policy for growth and development.
The 1960s and '70s marked a watershed for the Pasadena League. Embracing La Canada Flintridge and Sierra Madre (later incorporating the Alhambra and South Pasadena leagues) it became the LWV Pasadena Area, and by 1976 was the second largest league in the state. At about the same time, it hosted the state LWV convention. Also, as it gained prominence as a political force, LWVPA gained more visibility and accessibility by moving from its quarters in the Women's City Club to a storefront office in a shopping center at Lake Avenue and Washington Street. (It subsequently moved twice in the same general area, currently to an office on Hill Avenue just north of Washington.)
The League's mission to eradicate both racial and gender discrimination in housing, education and government moved to the forefront along with the civil rights movement. Based on a comprehensive survey of school operations, the LWVPA became an advocate of the Pasadena Plan to integrate the public schools. It boldly sued the anti-integration Board of Education in 1975 for violations of the Brown Act. Although each side paid its own legal fees, the judge congratulated the League for educating the board about the provisions of the public meeting act.
To promote minority representation in local government, the League backed a 1968 measure that changed the election system for the Pasadena city council to district-only primaries with a citywide runoff of the top two candidates if no one received a 60 percent vote in the primary elections. In a continued drive for greater minority representation 14 years later, the League pushed to eliminate the primaries in favor of district only elections, a system adopted in 1982.
In this same '60s and '70s era, LWVPA was instrumental in the formation of the Pasadena Human Relations Commission and the Pasadena Commission on the Status of Women. (The League continues to support the commission.)
As part of its mission for gender equality, the maverick Pasadena League admitted male members a decade before the national League broke the gender barrier in 1974 by amending its bylaws. Lee Merriman, editor of the Pasadena Star-News, claimed in one of his columns from the 1960s to be a "card-carrying member" of the LWV.
As the League was promoting racial equality in schools and government, its own members were moving into leadership positions on city commissions, the redevelopment agency, the City Council itself and the Board of Education. Other women League members also were developing their own professional careers, assuming management positions in influential community organizations and businesses. The membership was changing to reflect the tenor of the times.
The 1970s was the decade the national League won new respect by sponsoring and moderating the first presidential debates on television. It also was the era the League endorsed direct election of the president - long before the photo-finish presidential election in 2000.
Decades before the ensuing controversy over voting devices in 2000, the Pasadena League had studied election procedures and advocated the selection of the now infamous, punch-card Vote Recorder in 1968. By end of the 1900s LWVPA found itself assessing alternative voting devices.
As the 21st century began to dawn, male members of LWVPA were exerting more influence as electronic communications and study of elections systems became a focus. They were pivotal in the LWVPA study and endorsement in 1999 of Instant Runoff Voting and Choice Voting in 2002 on the local level to promote fairness and equality of representation. Men also were influential in the creation of a state League study on election systems in 1999-2001. Furthermore, men were major contributors in setting up an innovative electronic advocacy network that sends out alerts on local and state issues to all members with email.
SmartVoter.org, a web site with information about candidates and voting issues, is another up-to-date, state League enterprise in which LWVPA participates. In addition, the LWVPA continues to moderate election forums and to distribute publications of pros and cons on ballot measures and Easy Reader Voter Guides about candidates and issues in general elections.
About 70 years after its founding, LWVPA carries on the tradition of building bridges. It is forging coalitions with other civic groups, particularly in the minority communities, reaching out to new citizens and carrying out a Youth Outreach Program in high schools and community college. In particular the LWVPA founded a partnership with the Pasadena Board of Education, the city of Pasadena and a host of other community agencies in 1992 to set up enriching, after-school programs, called the Partnership for School Age Children.
The faces and times may change, but the mission remains the same: to educate voters and implement