Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on May 30, 1976 · Page 57
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 57

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 30, 1976
Page 57
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Page 57 article text (OCR)

if often seems to Commonplace and ordinary, the tcork of fate women in the League of Women Voters. But throughout the land they form a network of information and guidance on the many difficult issues of the day. Women Voters Dedicated. '-··/ - \ By John Barbour The Anociated Prtu . The pretty, sandy-haired lady from Louisville smiles gently, but the button on her turtleneck sweater reads, "See you in court." Y · The smile reflects her disposition, not her determination. Dot Ridings, 36, mother of two young boys, has been to court twice in the last two years to join the fight for open public records and open public meetings in Kentucky. It's part of her job as a "woman voter" in league with 136,000 others in the United States, dedicated to active citizenship, bound and determined to take every legal, nonpartisan step to obtain representative government, individual liberty. Dot Ridings is president of one of the 1,400 local leagues of the League of Women Voters, a 56-year-old organization, born of the women's suffrage movement and the 19th amendment that gave women the vote. Two years ago it admitted men for the first time. This year it voted to retain its historical title rather than change to such asexual names as "League of Voters of the United States," which has a cutesy acoronym LOV-US. The League is not given to things cutesy. For the woman who wants to concentrate on woman's rights, who wants a loud public voice to propound her views/there is NOW, the National Organization of Women, some League members point out. But for those who want to look at a broad range of issues, who want to explore and present both sides of every question, who don't mind the drudgery.of.pplitical study, the League^ is the major organization. It attracts serious; middle-class women whose husbands are professionals or businessmen, who have children, nice homes, but feel that isn't enough. The League demands time of those who. have it, which tends to eliminate the single, working woman. The League takes stands only when it reaches consensus, one of its prime characteristics. It moves slowly, but with deliberate speed. It does not back candidates. It pits those candidates against each other-on the issues-as in its current televised Presidential Forum '76. · - . ' ' ' . "The League of Women Voters believes ..." its statement of principles begins, ,; but "believes" seems too small a verb to describe the dedication and sheer animal force of an active member, dragging her children with her to meetings, sitting at- tentatiye through endless, dreary sessions of local commissions, poring over mountains of budgetary minutiae. Few public officials will deny the effect of the League's dispassionate, thorough studies of issues ranging from the need for 1 a family court in the Virgin Islands to national campaign financing. - "The strength is we have the time to do things, 11 Dot Ridings explains. "I feel a surrogate, role because 1 know there are people, my husband included, who feel much the same way about the need for governmental action by citizens, and simply don't have the time to do it. "They can't be there at fiscal court when it meets every Tuesday morning at 10o'clock. lean." * . Every morning, every afternoon, every evening across.the nation, League women answer the silent call, often to the displeasure and discomfort of local officials, some of whom would prefer the anonymity and candor of closed meetings. The Las Vegas, Nev., League, for instance, met with official incredulity when it was formed 13 years ago. Officials, playing to a nearly empty-house, pro forma,' began to note, first with curiosity, then concern, the woman in the back row writing down the proceedings. Meeting after meeting. '·': That has changed. "Now they tell us when meetings are," says a Las Vegas league member, "so we don't have to follow them around. On the positive side, they come to the League for information, because the League is an information- gathering organization." .That was what first attracted Dot Riding to the League. She was a reporter for the Charlotte, N.C., Observer, researching a story on a "speaker ban law" which gave officials wide discretionary powers in banning speakers from state campuses. "There were some obvious sources like the American Civil Liberties Union," she recalls, "but the best on this issue was th League of Women Voters. They produced a document that gave me everything 1 needed. It saved innumerable hours of research. 1 was very impressed with the way they approached the issue." ^ She decided that some day', when sht . married and had children, she would join the League. Indeed that seems to summarize the drive of most League members. They refused to succumb to the role of housewife or the routine aspects of motherhood. Says Mary Updegrove 48, of Crystal Lake, 111., "I had a three-year-old child, 1 lived in a suburban neighborhood, I was a college graduate, and I was extremely bored with talking about various kinds of floor wax. Isaw an article in the paper and said to a neighbor, 'Let's go: 1 We went and I was hooked." Says-Jacki Bacharach, 30, of Palos. .; Verdes, Calif., : "My mother was a League member in Evanston, 111., and told me it was fantastic. So when I became a housewife, I decided. I've had three children while a League member, and it's the one organization that could keep my brain going while I was doing the diapers." Pat Quarterson, 34, of-Cincinnati has two children. Her husband, Dave, has joined the league too. Both are working on environmental quality. But back then, she found herself thinking: "I think I could tolerate the children . . . The League gives me something else to talk about at night, other than 'Gee Honey, I did four loads of washing today. And those whites did me in.'" Dot Ridings married a fellow reporter on the Observer, and they moved to Louisville where he became urban affairs editor for the'Louisville Courier-Journal, and ev- entually moved to the county planning commission and won his law degree. Two weeks after the birth of her first child, seven years ago, she joined the League. This year she missed his swearing in to the bar before the Kentucky Supreme Court because she was attending the League's national convention in New York. "I think I would be a worse mother if I ' didn't have something like this that I'm really interested in," she says. "It keeps you alive. I think I would be much more of a shrew if I were a stay-at-home. I'm glad I'm living now instead of when my grandmother lived because I don't think I would be very happy." Somehow the children survive, some say they even grow in the League experience. Jacki Bacharach says she guesses that the League does get in the way of bringing up the children. "But my husband says I'm the kind of person who, if it wasn't this, it would be something else. And the children are very good about it. They're starting to use things like, 'I vote for this television program.'!' Laura Watson; 44} of Mesa, Ariz., says 'her daughter has often wished that her mother had a regular job with regular hours because League work is never done. Still, she says, her teenagers and her husband are proud of her. "I feel that raising my children is the most important thing that I do. If I provide the world with two good citizens I have done an outstandingly good job. They are. interesting, interested and involved people, and I enjoy them. I think this may have something to do with all the times they have worked with me. They've been building floats or doing things with me always, because 1 like them. "My children have been licking, stamping and mutilating ever since I joined the League." Dot Ridings' seven-year-old thinks his mother's job is "great" but the four-year- old doesn't much care. Dot was invited to talk to her seven-year-old's class and when she arrived, she found him slumping down in his seat. She gave her talk and the class responded with lively questions. "And I noticed that he started sitting taller, and he started asking questions, and he started calling me Ma. So I figured I must have done all right." As a league president Dot Ridings puts in some 20 hours a week in the League office, some 20 hours at home, where she has her own office and does free-lance writing. But most often League members work out of the kitchen or the dining room and some keep their files in shoe boxes under the bed. It all seems so commonplace. It is anything but. In the last two years, Dot Ridings' League played a moderating force in the face of the violence-prone tension of court- ordered busing of school children. The League joined a coalition of other Louisville groups, helped round up the support of businesssmen, helped man a 24-hour rumor control center where league members handled phone calls and slept on cots. The League collected enough money, Vicki Lowell of Falmouth, Mass., (Second from Left) Turns to Hear Speaker She's Part of a League of Women Voters Chapter in New York City Mary Updegrove points out that the For those who don't want regular hours, mayor'of Crystal Lake is a League mem- who do want the stimulation of worthwhile ber as are three of the 20 county board battles and hard work, the League promts- members. Her league is tightly woven into the consciousness of her community, Jacki Bacharach's League worked to found a new municipality to give residents better control over their civic affairs and the use of the coastline. Bea Levinson, 42, of Las Vegas credits the League with getting air pollution standards for Nevada earlier and stronger than other states. One League member has gone on to the stale legislature and others are working on state commissions. Vicki Lowell, 34, of Falmouth, Mass., is part of an established League that provides the community with a "candidate's night and if we didn't have it the town would think something was wrong." The League also publicized figures showing a need for a new high school which the community voted, and got a sign code for the resort community that makes the Holiday Inn and the new McDonald's harder'to irs -May 30, 1976 mostly in small contributions, to send Dot Ridings and three colleagues to Washington to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We wanted them to hear things they might not hear from the extremes" of the argument," Dot Ridings says. . The League also distributed a "political address letter," which lists names and addresses of every political jurisdiction from school board members and aldermen :'. to Kentucky's senators and the President. "We promoted this because people were frustrated," Dot Ridings explains. "They were frustrated about busing and didn't know what to do about it. They were helpless. So we said, take the legal route, take the peaceful way. "We had calls from citizens who didn't know their political jurisdictions, who didn't know their local alderman could do nothing about a federal court order." The League also wrote every candidate for office, urging them not to aggravate the situation by playing on the busing issue. The busing order divided the League. "Many of our members were scared to- death that we were going to lose members," Dot Ridings recalls. "But we gained members. We still have members who are not in total agreement that busing was the right way, and we never said it was. What we said was when you are mandated to desegregate your schools that have been illegally segregated-and we had some-busing is only one way, but when there are no alternatives, you have to do it that way." Not all League work is as dramatic as that. Carole Rubley, 37, of Upper Main Line, Pa., is proud that her League's rapport with local officials has improved greatly over the last few years, so much so that more and more league members are being asked to serve on advisory boards. Dorothy Bird, 44, of Durango. Colo., says her League took on the U.S. Postal Service which wanted to build on the banks of the Animas River and convinced it otherwise. Only trouble is now the General Services Administration is eyeing the same site. find. - · Sunny Yahr, 35, of Miami, Fla., says her 500-member League was instrumental in the passage of a master land use plan for Dade County, and as a result the county will be the first community to get federal funds for a rapid rail transit system. Laura Watson is a Republican and has served in leagues in three conservative states. The leagues always look different against varying political backgrounds. In Wyoming she found it fighting for recognition from an establishment intent on doing things the old ways, resistant to change. Once in a battle over educational provisions, she went to the senate leader of the opposition to tell him how much she admired him. He asked how she could admire him and be so adverse to his views. "1 tried to explain to him 1 had a good deal of admiration for the kind of life he had lived, but it was just not the kind of life his grandchildren could live." In Arizona, where the League is pushing the Equal Rights Amendment in a divided legislature, she finds the League in "a battle for respectability, if you will. A great many people in Arizona even equate us with the far left, which some of us find amusing." The League has always led on many social issues. In 1920, when it was founded, it adopted a list of 96 action items, including collective bargaining, child labor laws, "minimum wages, civil service, public health. By 1924, its president could announce that two-thirds of the list had become law. Since then the League has backed Social Security, food and drug laws, free trade, the United Nations, nuclear nonproliferation, water resources, campaign financing and currently the Equal Rights Amendment. For all of its success, the League finds itself, in this Bicentennial year, with its membership down by some 15.000 from 1972. Part of that is due to a culling of membership rolls. But some of it is due to competition with the increasing job market for women, money having a satisfaction of its own. es much. It Is also a training ground for political office. "I think the League Is something of an ego trip, once you get Involved," says Laura Watson. "It's good lor your self-es- teen. It makes you feel worthwhile." "The people who become League members," says Dot Ridings "aren't the type who are going tc stay at home and be frustrated anyway. Now we sometimes wring our hands that we are not more attractive to all kinds of women. But thit li in Impossible goal. I do hope to itop at the point where we are scaring iwij anybody who thinks we're too smart or too Involved." At the national convention In New York City this month,,the 1,400 delegates got one afternoon off to see UK city. Otherwise they stayed in their chairs ind attended their caucuses through grueling 16-hour days. It led Washington political satirist Mark Russell to remark at the banquet: "Remember, for every neglected husband at home, you have a new amendment to the bylaws." Some thought the retention of the name "women voters" was sexism In reverse, Russell quipped: "You can take women out of the kitchen, but you can't take the word out of the League." But a woman delegate, arguing against the change on the basis of history, borrowed from a strongly feminist song to sum it up before the vote: "We can do anything. We are strong. We are invincible. We are The League of WOMEN Voters." Is Gaboon Viper The Next? Dot Ridings of Loisville, Ky. Be to Court Twice to Fight for^ Public Records Active Voter League Effective in Area The League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area has been active in furnishing information to citizens so they can make up their own minds about the qualifications of candidates for public office, and in this they have done some effective work. The Voters Guide published before the primary election in the Sunday Gazette-Mail was followed by the local leagues partici- pation'in the statewide educational television program. "Know Your Candidates." Mrs. Thomas N. Chambers, area president of the league, reports: "We are looking to do more in the fall, perhaps establishing 2 voters' information 'hot line" for polling place locations, or proper authorities to notify in cases of suspected irregularities." The local league has 160 members, in five neighborhood units that meet the fourth *eek O f each monlh. September through May. Mrs. Thomas Chambers League President By L. T. Anderson The water moccasin which bit and killed a worshiper at a Mingo County snake-handling ceremony obviously was imported into the state. Although many West Virginians refer to harmless water snakes as moccasins, the poisonous water moccasin doesn't live here. And that is all right with me. My relationship with poisonous snakes is cool and distant. * NONETHELESS, I have always supported the right of other people to use dangerous snakes in their religious practices as long as they don't involve me. I am about to suggest an amendment to that position, however. On account of the water moccasin. I now propose that snake handlers be left free to commune with poisonous snakes in ! West Virginia only if then make use of j native rattlesnakes and copperheads. ! which even Episcopalians might ercoun- i ter while strolling in the woods. ! One is required by common sense to take a dim view of the importation of an additional poisonous species into West Virg i m a . If water moccasins are to be brought across the borders, the Gaboon viper may be next. As worshipers vie for the favor of Providence, the more zealous among them doubtless will turn to the deadly bushmaster. There is no guarantee that these serpents can be prevented from fleeing the ient and starting families in West Virginia. We're hospitable people, to be sure, but there's such a thing as overdoing it. The average snake-handler strikes me z, being well adjusted and fair: He would understand. I believe, if the lefisiature acted to give a state monopoly to rattlers and cspperheads. '.

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