Richmond native Lila Meade Valentine was born in 1865 and devoted much of her life to advocating education and health-care reform and woman suffrage. In 1909, Valentine cofounded the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia (ESL) and was elected the organization's first president. Shortly after its founding, the ESL joined forces with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which succeeded two suffrage groups that had been formed late in the nineteenth century, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. The NAWSA was the most mainstream and nationally prominent prosuffrage group. In an effort to educate Virginia's citizens and legislators about woman suffrage, ESL members went door-to-door passing out leaflets and giving speeches on the subject. Common techniques used to attract women to their cause included giving speeches across the state, often from decorated automobiles, renting booths at fairs, and distributing “Votes for Women” buttons. By 1919, the league had attracted 30,000 members.
During her time with the ESL, Valentine quickly became known for her ability to impress a crowd through well-reasoned speeches. From 1912 to 1913 Valentine traveled the state of Virginia giving more than a hundred speeches supporting woman suffrage. Soon she was called on to speak in New Jersey, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia on behalf of the NAWSA. Because Valentine developed into a powerful public speaker, her talent made her quite valuable to the woman suffrage movement.
Suffrage groups established schools to educate women on political issues and train them in public speaking. The Lynchburg branch of the ESL cooperated with the Randolph-Macon Woman's College League in 1915 to offer a series of courses for suffrage workers. The cost was fifteen cents a lesson or a dollar and a half for the entire course. The classes were intended to cover the “questions of the day” and included topics such as politics, history, and social and legal issues.
In spite of the ESL's tireless efforts, the Virginia General Assembly failed to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, which in 1920 granted all women in the United States, including women in Virginia the right to vote. It was not until 1952 that the Virginia General Assembly officially adopted the amendment. After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified and women gained the franchise, the league was reorganized as the League of Women Voters of Virginia.
1. What role did Valentine have in the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia?
2. What things did the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia do to attract members and bring attention to the issue of woman suffrage?
1. Lila Valentine was an excellent public speaker. Why is good public speaking such an important factor in the success or failure of a cause? What have been some of the most important speeches delivered by women in American history?
The papers of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia span the years 1909 to 1938. The collection includes correspondence, organization records for both the Equal Suffrage League and the League of Women Voters, printed materials, newspaper clippings, "Votes for Women" buttons, and postcards. The publications relate to woman suffrage and related issues of government, organization, education, child and economic welfare, and the legal status of women.
The collection was received by the Virginia State Library in 1942 from Ida Mae Thompson, a clerk with the WPA Historical Records Survey. Thompson had previously served as office secretary for the Equal Suffrage League and the League of Women Voters. The collection's correspondence includes a sizable number of letters by Jessie Townsend and Mary Elizabeth Pidgeon, along with those of Ad éle Clark, her sister Edith Clark Cowles, and Lila Meade Valentine.
Taylor, Lloyd C., Jr. "Lila Meade Valentine: The FFV as Reformer." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 70, no. 4 (October, 1962): 471–487.
Coleman, Elizabeth Dabney. "Genteel Crusader: Lila Meade Valentine Fought the Good Fight for Woman's Rights." Virginia Cavalcade 4, no. 2, (Autumn 1954): 29–32.
Graham, Sara Hunter. "Woman Suffrage in Virginia: The Equal Suffrage League and Pressure-Group Politics, 1909–1920." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 101, no. 2 (April, 1993): 227–250.