Erlanger relates Redding League’s history at luncheon

Attending the Redding League of Voters luncheon on Dec. 12 were, from left, former First Selectman Mary Anne Guitar, Mary Erlanger, who talked about the league’s history, Shirley Greene, the luncheon’s host, Linda Eike, league president, and Ginny Cohen. — Emily d’Aulaire photo

A natural leader newly moved to town, Mary Erlanger was among the pioneering core of women who made the League of Women Voters such a constructive force during the 60s and 70s, helping shape Redding into the unique small town it is today.

At the league’s annual holiday luncheon on Dec. 12 at the home of Shirley Greene, Ms. Erlanger spoke of those early years when women, hungry for friendship, focus and a cause they could believe in and work for, banded together as members of the league.

“We found it — we could transform Redding, if not the world. It is hard to convey the passion and energy of those times,” she said.

The league assigned observers to town boards and commissions, focusing especially on land-use issues and open space, sending maps of open lands needing preserving to all residents and advocating for Conservation Commission proposals, Ms. Erlanger said. At the town’s bicentennial celebration in 1967, the league came to prominence through its information booth on the town green and published the first edition of “Know Your Town,” which explained how local government worked and how citizens could make their voices heard.

Ms. Erlanger then quoted from an editorial in a September 1967 issue of The Redding Pilot: “Do we need these persistent women holding their interminable meetings, badgering public officials, studying, working, coming up with questions and answers, always prodding us to do something or other?” After some length, she noted, the editorial arrived at the conclusion that, indeed, Redding did need the League of Women Voters.

After serving as Redding league president from 1965 to 1969, Ms. Erlanger went on to chair the Connecticut state league from 1972 to 1974. Those were the years when Ella Grasso was governor and when the women’s movement and the crusade for the Equal Rights Amendment were in full swing, Ms. Erlanger observed. Several women across the state were elected first selectmen, including Redding’s Mary Anne Guitar, who served in that role for 12 years.

Ms. Erlanger then quoted from her President’s column in the league’s newsletter, The Connecticut Voter, where she urged leaguers to apply the successful methods used at the local level — phone calls, visits to the powerful, communication with the press, large turnouts at hearings, public rallies, etc. — in lobbying on the state and national level as well.

At all levels, Ms. Erlanger reported, the league has enjoyed ongoing success from then until now, citing Redding’s current top rating in conservation, having “the highest open space per capita of any town in Connecticut” and the continuing concentration of the league on crucial issues such as “statutory budget controls, campaign finance reform, tax reform, transportation, and environmental quality.”

She ended her remarks with an inspiring challenge to find and embrace continuity in our lives during these turbulent times, “including, of course, the League of Women Voters. … The Redding League has continued to be a force for good government, environmental responsibility, and — most importantly — responsible citizen participation.”

Jean Taylor, expert on Redding’s historic homes, remarked, after the applause for Ms. Erlanger’s talk, that Mary and her husband, Michael, had for many years lived in their Redding Center home whose origins traced back to 1730 when the Burritt family lived surrounded by local Indian tribes.

First Selectman Natalie Ketcham then offered memories of when the Erlangers, involved Redding citizens always, opened their pool house as election central to get out the vote for the successful passage of school referendums.

The Redding League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to educate voters and encourage active participation in the political process. For information on how to join the league, contact membership chair Margi Esten at margiesten@yahoo.com or President Linda Eike at leik@optonline.net.

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