League of Women Voters celebrates 100 years
Jayme Stevenson, Christa McNamara, Sarah Neumann, Debra M. Ritchie, Kathrine G. Stein, Jill McCammon, Taylor Carter — and the list goes on for women in elected positions of leadership in town.
Women have sure come a long way in Darien, Connecticut, and the United States. The League of Women Voters of Darien acknowledges that, and has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding this year with a speaker series. The series recognizes and celebrates women who are using their power and influence to bring about change in their state and community.
Three events have already been held as part of the series, which runs through the spring of 2020. These were: How women in Hartford are Navigating Politics, Advancing Policy and Leading the Way for Others, Maintaining Election Integrity in Connecticut, and the latest developments on gun control.
Each event features women in prominent leadership roles, and includes a question and answer period.
The program series concludes on June 2, when the LWV of Darien and the Darien Library host author Rebecca Traister, author of “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.”
The 2019-20 season continues to have an education focus on issues that are relevant today. Future events will be announced on the LWV of Darien website at lwv.darien.org/.
LWV of Darien
The LWV is a national, nonpartisan, political organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in their government.
There are more than 700 local leagues of the LWV, in all 50 states as well as Hong Kong and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Darien league has about 120 members. Its yearly activities include preparing a nonpartisan voters guide, presenting candidate debates for all town offices, and printing a government guide and guide to the RTM. The league also hosts a legislative breakfast that includes the state delegation from Hartford, as well as a movie at the Darien Library.
While preparing for its speaker series, LWV co-president Clara Sartori and co-second vice president for programs Evonne Klein, who is a former Darien First Selectman, researched women who’ve held powerful positions in Darien, and came up with a theme of 100 women for 100 years.
“We have more than 100 women who were elected to Darien government positions over the past 100 years,” Klein said.
One of the most recent “firsts” for women in town is the promotion of Alison Hudyma as the first female lieutenant in the Darien Police Department.
Klein said she hopes the LWV will continue to be an active organization where it maintains is core mission, “which is to encourage people to register to vote, then go to vote. Don’t be a spectator.”
“Get involved with and be aware of what the issues are in your community, in your state and nationally and what actions elected officials are taking, or not taking, on those issues,” she added.
Having an open debate is critical, according to Klein.
“That’s so fundamental to a healthy functioning board and to a community, so we can all have a civil discussion and understand the other side,” Klein said. “If there is a problem to be solved, to reach consensus on solving that problem — that is the ultimate outcome.”
According to Sartori, one of the most important roles in town that the LVW has played consistently is voter education and “respectful dialogue” among citizens and public officials.
Aside from exercising their right to vote, Klein encourages women to run for positions themselves.
“We encourage, motivate and inspire people to become involved in the political process — to not only register to vote, and not only to vote, but to be involved in issues within the community, run for public office, and try to create change in our town where they think change should occur,” she said. “Recognize that everyone has a voice and use that voice to make a difference in the areas that they feel that are important to them, or in the areas that need help or support.”
According to Klein, women are here to help one another succeed should any obstacles come up.
“None of these tasks or volunteer positions are that insurmountable,” she said. “Fellow board members can help.”
Passing the baton
Klein, who has been a member of the LWV of Darien for about 20 years, said she was encouraged and inspired by many influential women she met through the organization.
“I was very fortunate as a new Darien community member, to meet some of these women who held office, and who were very encouraging and supportive,” she said. “I learned quite a bit from them.”
She added that there have been women who have not only “blazed a trail” but were inspirational to her to pursue other endeavors.
One of them is Enid Oresman, 86, who joined the Darien league in the early 1970s when she first moved to town from Chicago, Ill.
Over a 25-year period, Oresman served on the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Board of Education. She was also president of the LWV of Connecticut.
“The LWV, as it was in the 1970s, was not that much different from when it formed, said Oresman, who is now a Stamford resident.
The league has always been most interested in the “vital aspects of voter information, such as proper voting procedures and allowing people to vote,” she added.
“We were founded on the basis of the need to have fair and equal representation. We advocated for various issues, but the main thing that was important to us was voting,” said Oresman, adding this is just as important today.
She added residents need to know when they can vote and who is running, and to make sure the government arranges it so voting is fair.
“We need to make sure everybody who is eligible has access to a voting machine,” she said. “A nonpartisan organization like the League of Women Voters really pays attention to making sure that a fair vote is available to everyone.”
Part of the role of current LWV members, according to Klein, “is to try to be as inspirational as we can be, and encouraging, and pass the baton for the next generation to be the leaders. This hundred year celebration is to really highlight all the possibilities that exist.”