By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Ellen Goguen joined the Worcester area chapter of the League of Women Voters (the League) in 1977 when she was a stay-at-home mom. Almost 40 years later, now president of the Grafton chapter, she still finds the league interesting, engaging and worthwhile.
Over time, there have been changes to the league, and to the Grafton group.
“Many of our members are now retired,” Goguen said.
Founded in 1920 just before the 19th Amendment was ratified, the league was originally created to support woman as voters. “Suffragette,” a recently released movie about the British women’s fight to vote, is bringing renewed attention to the organization.
It now focuses on protecting voters; engaging and educating voters; reforming money in politics; and protecting the environment. These issues have been studied, and consensus has been reached. Action is then taken by providing information and lobbying, as well as other efforts.
While it labels itself as nonpartisan, many describe the league’s positions as progressive.
Once well-known for moderating televised presidential debates – in 1976, 1980 and 1984 –
the league subsequently withdrew its support.
In an Oct. 3, 1988, press release entitled, “League Refuses to Perpetrate a Fraud,” Nancy Neuman, then-president of the League said, “It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions.”
State and local chapters sponsor forums to discuss issues, and Meet the Candidates events, as does the national league, but to a lesser extent, according to Goguen.
The Grafton chapter evolves
In 1989, 40 Grafton residents spun off from Worcester to create their own league chapter. The number of members has been in the 30s and 40s since, according to Goguen.
The Grafton chapter now has 35 members, including eight men, who are spouses of members, except for one whose wife is no longer a member. (In 1973, the league altered its charter to add men.)
In recent times, the chapter has studied and reached consensus on long-range planning in town, details for supporting special education programs, and the need for a professional administrator to support the selectman, a recreational director, and a curriculum coordinator.
The group also initiated its own study of senior services in Grafton, completed in 2014.
“We support the Senior Center in Grafton and the services and resources it provides to Grafton seniors,” Goguen noted.
As part of a national effort, the group is currently studying “Money in Politics” as it relates to campaign finance reform.
“Now with the web, these studies are much easier,” commented Goguen. “We have a committee that will do the work, and two or three people will present the group’s findings. We either come to an agreement or not. Everyone who is present at a meeting gets to vote.”
The Grafton chapter sponsors a Meet the Candidates Forum with a moderator. The last candidates’ night was in 2013, since all candidates ran unopposed last year.
Annually the group has five board meetings and four regular meetings. Prospective members are invited to a potluck social at the March meeting, and the annual meeting in May. Membership is $50 per person, $75 per family, and $25 for full- and part-time students.
Goguen noted that you do not have to live in Grafton to join that chapter. New members are welcome. For more information, visit the group’s website at lwvgrafton.org. Goguen noted that there are also active leagues in Worcester, Shrewsbury, Natick, Sudbury and Harvard.