Lakewood’s League of Women Voters

Page title reads “Officers and Committee Chairman of League of Women Voters Garden Party.” This page was published in the August 30, 1923, issue of The Lakewood Post newspaper.

As the month of March comes to an end, I find that (a) it has flown by and (b) there is so much history to be told and discussed.  This certainly takes quite a bit of time to thoroughly research and ensure accuracy/legitimacy of the sources that are used.  Especially with political issues bombarding us in the media and in our everyday lives, it is appropriate to stress the need to become educated on political issues in our society; trying to the best of our ability to get the whole story. The final post in the Women’s History Month series,  highlights some of the changes that occurred after the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which resulted in the formation of an organization whose purpose is just that…educate the community on political issues. Now, it is important for everyone to know what the 19th Amendment states, since it was a pivotal legislative decision that still affects us today.

  1. The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of by any State on account of sex.
  2. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Lakewood Women’s Suffrage Party, formed in 1912, worked diligently for five years to pass a local measure to include women in local government decision-making.  These efforts eventually resulted in the 1917 vote that allowed the Lakewood Ladies to officially participate in the democratic process.  It was not until 1920 that states voted to ratify a national Women’s Suffrage amendment.

“League of Women Voters Hear Report of Representatives Attending Convention of National League.” This article was published in 1923.

The members of the Lakewood Women’s Suffrage Party transformed their organizational mission in 1922 to focus on the education of the new population of voters-women.  So, the Lakewood League of Women Voters (LWV) grew out of the Lakewood Women’s Suffrage Party.   (It is important to note at this point, that this was a common transformation that occurred within many of the Women’s Suffrage Parties across the country.)

Did you know that Bernice Pyke was not the only suffragette who had a famous political career? Maude C. Waitt was the first Republican woman to be elected to the House of Representatives for the State of Ohio.

There is some debate, looking at the newspaper clippings we have in our collections about whether or not the Lakewood chapter of the LWV is the oldest in the state, or the second. However, the fact remains that it was one of the first to establish itself after the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment!  In 1924, two years after the establishment of the Lakewood LWV, its membership numbered 481.  In 1967, in celebration of the first 45 years of the LWV, one of the original members, Mrs. Jesse W. Woods, reflected that, “[W]hen we organized the league back in ’22 women were very ignorant of politics and very uninterested…They didn’t even know parliamentary procedure…”

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Politics and Bernice Pyke

March 15, 2016, is the day when the state of Ohio will vote in its primary election; determining which Democrat and which Republican will get the most delegates for their respective parties to represent the state of Ohio at the nominating national conventions. Cleveland is even the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC).  This year, in particular, is a unique primary season, to say the least. But, how many know that Lakewood has its own unique and profound history with the political national conventions?  Lakewood was home to the first women to be elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920.

Bernice (Secrest) Pyke, a well known and celebrated member of the Lakewood community, graduated from high school in Chillicothe in 1898 and then studied at Ohio Wesleyan University and at Smith College in Massachusetts. She taught mathematics in Illinois and in 1906, married Arthur B. Pyke. Pyke -- literary readingsBernice was a prominent suffragette in Lakewood and assumed the presidency of the Lakewood Women’s Suffrage Party in 1914 where she raised $400 from the district which earned her the distinction raising the most funds in the Greater Cleveland area. Pyke for Mayor Pyke also was the first woman to campaign for Mayor of Lakewood, hold a cabinet position in Cleveland City government, and, as stated previously, served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920. While she was unsuccessful in her mayoral campaign, Bernice continued her involvement in politics with a state senatorial campaign and addressed the 1932 Democratic Part at the convention where she was skeptical of presidential candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  After Roosevelt’s victory in the Pyke for Congresspresidential race, he actually appointed Pyke as the director of customs collection for Ohio, which she held for 20 years and two presidents waived the mandatory retirement age for her. Those presidents were Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

Throughout all of her political involvement, Bernice also was noted as one of the founding members of the Lakewood Public Library and even owned her own bookstore on the corner of Detroit and Cook.  At the Lakewood Historical Society, we maintain and care for items that dealt with Bernice Pyke, as well as the Lakewood Women’s Suffrage Party.  She stood out as a pioneering woman who had a great influence on both her local community and gained national notoriety through her service in local affairs, as well as in national politics.