If you’ve ever spotted a group of women dressed as suffragettes at NSU or manning a voter registration booth at a downtown event, then you’ve seen the League of Women Voters of the Aberdeen Area in action.
Formed as a nonpartisan organization to encourage informed and active participation in government, the group advocates for issues that affect women.
Major ongoing activities for the League include registering eligible voters, providing voter information, and advocating for voting rights. In addition, the organization supports a variety of public policy positions, such as health care reform, reproductive rights, immigration and LGBTQ+ issues.
Betty Sheldon is the Aberdeen chapter’s chairperson, and a passionate advocate for fostering an informed electorate.
“One of the beautiful things about the League is that we come together annually to agree on or reaffirm our list of focuses,” Sheldon said. “No one individual’s position is placed above others. We have a lovable and respectful dialogue around issues, then show up together to support issues we all care about.”
The group does not endorse specific candidates or political parties, instead choosing to focus on issues and provide education to help voters make informed choices at the polls.
The League hosts a public lunch each year with local government leaders, where citizens are encouraged to ask questions and learn about issues affecting their city and state. The League also hosts voter registration drives, educational speakers and programming that emphasizes women’s studies, voter rights and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Sheldon joined the League after retiring, not intending to take a leadership role with the organization.
“I thought I would just go to the meetings and sit in the back row and help make cookies or something,” Sheldon said, laughing. “I got in deeper than I intended. The League is an organized way to participate in issues you care about.”
Gail Funk is also a long-time member, and she’s particularly proud of the group’s ongoing work to support local cracker barrels, register voters and collect signatures to put issues on the ballot.
“We are working toward the good of the people,” Funk said. “We are bringing issues to the forefront that affect our community.”
A decade of advocacy
The League of Women Voters has been active in South Dakota for more than 100 years, and the Aberdeen chapter has been continuously active since 1947.
“Our local chapters are the lifeblood of the League of Women Voters, and most of the work is done at a local level,” said Amy Scott-Stoltz, spokesperson for the League of Women Voters of South Dakota. “Our focus remains on defending democracy and empowering voters. We are a nonpartisan organization that encourages everyone to take part in our democracy, to be empowered and informed.”
In 1920, the League was founded by suffragettes to help women learn about their newly-gained right to vote. While the day-to-day work of the League has evolved over time, the group’s mission hasn’t. The organization believes in the freedom to vote and the right to be informed.
Today, the Aberdeen chapter is seeing a resurgence, with a number of younger members joining the ranks. They point to increasing political conflict over the last few years as a trigger for increased membership.
“When Roe v. Wade was overturned, people started coming out of the woodwork,” Sheldon said. “The League was being very visible, attending Pride events, collecting signatures for Medicaid expansion and voter redistricting bills, and doing a lot of voter registration. Young women see us and become interested in what we’re doing.”
The Aberdeen chapter isn’t the only one seeing renewed interest from a younger generation. Statewide, membership grew by 20% last year, and new chapters are opening in Brookings and the Black Hills, joining more than 750 chapters across the country.
“When we see events that take away our freedom, we tend to see an uptick in activism. Our nonpartisan policy welcomes everyone who is interested in participating in democracy,” said Scott-Stoltz.
The organization believes in inclusivity; not only are members of all political parties welcome to join, all genders are as well. While the Aberdeen chapter doesn’t currently have any male members, Scott-Stoltz says there are several across the state. Any person of voting age may become a league member.
Sheldon says it’s both exciting and gratifying to see new members joining their efforts. That energy drew Alicia Dohn, who was already active in several advocacy groups that put her in the League’s orbit. She was looking for mentorship and found it in long-time League members.
“They invited me to a luncheon and I was really impressed with the women themselves and their goals. I was able to meet a number of other like-minded women and advocates from around the community. Aberdeen has so many wonderful resources but we don’t always find each other; LWV helps me connect, share assets, and build solutions. Plus, all the cool women were there,” said Dohn.
She found the group’s members to be smart and interesting, with a passion for issues that aligned with her own.
“Officially, I’ve made valuable community connections to help me in my professional and advocacy pursuits. Personally, I’ve made some really cool new friends who are interested in making ‘good trouble,’” said Dohn.
Dohn is most excited to work with the League to engage youth in voter registration, and demonstrating that changing the world is simple and doable.
“It starts local. You don’t have to be elected, quit your job, or have a degree in politics. All you have to do is wake up, show up, and speak up. And vote!”
Marisa Roemmick was first drawn to the group when her husband ran for state office in 2018. Over time, she got to know the group members and felt encouraged by their mission.
“When my husband was running for office, it amazed me how many people did not know how to register to vote or where to see if they are registered. The League is dedicated to improving civic participation and I want to help be a part of that,” Roemmick said.
Roemmick says she used to be someone that wanted to stay out of politics, but over time her stance has evolved.
“We all need to get out and do everything we can so that every voice is heard.”
The Aberdeen Area League of Women Voters meets the 4th Thursday of each month at the Public Safety Building. Meetings are open to the public, and anyone interested in learning more about the organization is welcome to attend. //
Register to vote and find your polling place at vote411.org.
League of Women Voters
Find out more about the LWV and their mission at lwv.org.