First Person Singular: Kathryn Ray, 61, Washington, President, League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia


Kathryn C. Ray, president of the League of Women Voters of D.C.: “I want people to have the best government we can have. ... But it only works if people pay attention — and participate.” (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
October 31, 2012

As I tell my daughters, “I am so pre-Title IX.” They don’t get it. There were no organized sports for girls. None. Zero. Not badminton. Not tennis. Nothing. And I’m not as angry at that — that there was nothing for girls — it’s that I didn’t walk home to my parents and say, “Let’s sue.” We weren’t quite there yet as a society. I came of age in the civil rights and women’s movements. I went to a women’s college, and that made me realize that we can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen. We have to get involved and do something. To be a young person and have your ideas formed at that time, I have a strong sense of injustice, and I can’t calm that beast within me.

The League of Women Voters grew directly out of the suffragist movement. The same women who were working toward getting the right to vote for women, once that amendment was passed, August 26th, 92 years ago, they felt that they should continue, that their work wasn’t done. Registering is not enough — you have to know who you are voting for, you have to know what the issues are, and you have to get out there and vote.

Our D.C. League was founded just a couple of months after the U.S. League was founded. As a matter of fact, they used to call themselves the “Voteless League of Women.” At that time, [D.C.] people couldn’t even vote for president. When the amendment was passed, it meant nothing to either of my grandmothers; they both lived in the city. They didn’t get the right to vote. Both my grandmothers were older by the time I figured any of this out. My one big regret in life is I never asked them how they felt. How did you feel? When all the women in the country could now go register and you live in D.C.? They had to have a constitutional amendment to allow D.C. residents to vote for president. Lyndon Johnson was the first president that D.C. residents ever had the opportunity to vote for. Or, as my husband says, “Or Barry Goldwater.”

I want people to have the best government we can have. ’Cause with all the faults of our crazy government, it’s still the best. But it only works if people pay attention — and participate. We have to get involved and do something. One of my friends said to me recently, “Why do you get upset about these things that you can’t do anything about?” And I said, “If everyone had that attitude, where would we be in our country, if nobody was paying attention?”

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