By Don Corrigan
Missouri has many organizations with a mission to protect the environment. One group that has been around for 100 years, but isn’t often cited for its environmental chops, is the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis.
The St. Louis League was founded on Nov. 13, 1919, almost a year before passage of the 19th Amendment providing women the right to vote. The group’s goal was to protect the right to vote and to educate voters.
A new history of the League, Raising Our Voices, covers the past six decades of local and national upheaval, but it also chronicles decade-by-decade the everyday work of the League to protect the outdoors and environment.
Beginning with the decade of the 1960s, author Nicole Evelina zeroes in on the League’s concerns over air pollution. A familiar term at the time was “St. Louis throat,” coined to describe damage done to membranes of the nose, sinus and lungs.
St. Louis suffered from dense black and gray smoke primarily from the burning of coal. The city was put on notice with the 1964 Cleaner Air Act passed by the U.S. Congress. This led to the passage of the Missouri Air Conservation Act.
The League got behind recommendations to restrict the amount of coal burned, to outlaw open burning of refuse and to require anti-pollution devices on automobiles. The legislature passed a new set of air standards for the state.
In the 1970s, the League continued its efforts on air pollution issues, but also worked on improved management of parks. Proper land use also put the spotlight on landfills, which became more than just places to dump trash and forget about it.
Missouri was drowning in its own trash with 4.2 million tons of waste per year, or an average of 5 pounds per person per day. Roadsides, watersheds and floodplains were becoming dumps. The League advocated for responsible land use policy.
In the 1980s, nuclear power and hazardous waste hit the front burner. The League opposed a nuclear power plant in Callaway County because the U.S. Government showed no capacity for handling radioactive nuclear waste.
Nothing showed this government failure more than the uranium waste dumped in and along Coldwater Creek from the U.S. atomic bomb program. The deadly legacy of these carcinogens in north St. Louis County haunts us to this day.
In the 1990s, mass transit appeared on the St. Louis radar in a big way. The metro area’s first light rail system opened in 1993. MetroLink has a long way to go, but the League saw it as an environmentally responsible and least disruptive mode for travel.
In the 2000s, the League’s Education Committee found that learning is not just about what goes on in the classroom. Lead contamination in St. Louis was causing lower IQs, disabilities and attention deficit disorders.
Lead poisoning in St. Louis children was seven to 16 times the national average in some pockets of the city. The League joined other groups in supporting Lead Safe St. Louis the St. Louis Lead Safe Coalition.
Energy efficiency and renewable energy became the rage in the 2010s. The League was supporting solar energy and promoting a National Sun Day as early as 1978. In 2015, the League successfully advocated for St. Louis County’s adoption of an energy conservation code.
For The Future
The League’s environmental platform for the future puts an emphasis on climate change issues. Global warming’s impact is uneven, but it is evident in violent weather, costly rain events and withering heat.
The League’s purview stretches beyond environmental concerns, but in order to insure safe places to live, government must function much better. Government dysfunction is evident in the need for voting rights protections, insuring better representation and an end to gerrymandering.
Better representation for all Americans, according to the League, can come with a National Popular Vote to guarantee candidates with the highest number of votes win elections. Also, initiative petitions and grassroots activism must be protected.
An obvious long-term effort of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis is gender equality. To that end, the League continues to fight for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), first introduced by suffragist Alice Pail in 1923.
While women have made significant progress toward equality, they continue to face discrimination, unequal pay, workplace harassment and domestic violence. The League believes ratification of ERA will aloe the courts to scrutinize sex-based discrimination.
Picking up where Avis Carlson’s early history of the St. Louis League, The First 40 Years, leaves off, the new book, Raising Our Voices, demonstrates the League’s commitment to educate the public about issues affecting their communities.
Today’s League members are speaking out against voter suppression, defending reproductive rights, calling out for gun safety, and for conservation and environmental protections.
Raising Our Voices is available from Outskirts Press. It’s also available online from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
A book launch with author Nicole Evelina is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 5, at The Novel Neighbor at 7905 Big Bend Ave, in Webster Groves. The League’s ninth annual trivia night fundraiser will be on Saturday, Feb. 25. For more information, go to lwvstl.org.
Please take a look at the two important dates for the STL-LWV at the end of this story