A League Of Its Own

In 1949, Westport stood on the brink of change.

No one knew what the 2nd half of the 20th century would bring — but the town had already begun moving toward something different, modern and new.

A group of women wanted to influence the future.  They were smart and energetic — and, despite their many responsibilities as housewives and mothers, they found time to work for Westport.

That year — sitting around a tea set in Mrs. Wolcott Street’s Myrtle Avenue home — they formed a chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Over the next 6 decades, the organization grew — in numbers and influence.  The LWV helped determine the structure of the nascent Representative Town Meeting (RTM); later, the League made sure there was open space on the Post Road, and led the crusade to “green” it.  Look at the Post Road today in Westport — compared to neighboring Norwalk — and you’ll see the lasting effect the LWV has had on our town.

League of Women Voters members, 1966.

Two years ago John Hartwell — an LWV member (it’s not just for men anymore!), who was taking video production classes at Norwalk Community College — was asked to tape a coffee celebrating the Westport chapter’s 60th anniversary.  Four former LWV presidents were scheduled to speak.

A detached retina forced John to cancel.  To make amends, he promised to interview the 4 ex-presidents in their homes.

The stories he heard — and the careers the LWV launched — amazed and inspired him.

Julie Belaga

For example, after her League presidency, Julie Belaga served in the Connecticut Legislature, ran for governor, served as New England director of the EPA, and was appointed by President Clinton to the Export-Import Bank.

Jackie Heneage went on to serve 2 terms as first selectman — the 1st woman ever elected to the post.

Pat Porio had a long career after her service as president.

By the time John interviewed the 4th woman — 5-time LWV president Lisa Shufro — he realized there were many more voices to be heard.  He vowed to direct a video — and asked Lisa to produce it.

Sixteen more interviews followed.  There were visits to the house where the League was founded.  Hours and hours of footage — and hundreds and hundreds of stories — had to be edited down to the final 43-minute product.

Two themes emerge from “A League of Their Own.”  One is how the LWV empowered so many women.  For example, Martha Aasen went on to become the national organization’s official observer at the UN; she then worked full-time there.

Ann Gill was a major force on Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission for years.  The list goes on and on.

From left: Marty Hauhuth, Ann Gill, Barbara Butler, Mary Jenkins, Jacqueline Heneage -- LWV members, and accomplished women all.

The 2nd major theme is the impact the LWV had on Westport.

The video debuted at the League’s annual meeting in June.  It was shown at the Westport Library in September, and Senior Center earlier this month.

Always, the feedback was the same:  Wow!

Women interviewed for the film were impressed how well their stories were told.  Other viewers remarked how much they learned about the League — and Westport.

Seeing and hearing about women who have gained so much from the LWV — and in turn have given so much back, to their town and country — brought tears to the eyes of some.

You can watch the film now:  click here.

Or you can go to the Westport Historical Society this Sunday (October 30), for a showing.  Afterward, 2 of the League’s living legends — Jackie Heneage, and Selma Miriam (a leading proponent of Project Concern, and the founder and longtime owner of Bridgeport’s Bloodroot restaurant and bookstore) — will talk, and answer questions.

The video’s title is a pun on the League of Women’s Voters — and the 1992 film about women’s professional baseball — but it aptly describes the role of this organization in the life of our town.

For 6 decades, Westport’s LWV has been in a league of its own.

A screenshot from "A League of Its Own."

6 responses to “A League Of Its Own

  1. Wow, Dan…I lived in Jackie Heneage’s garage apartment on South Compo rd. way back then. She got my vote.

  2. The Dude Abides

    Thank you for the article. The unsung heroines of this town in many ways. My mother was very active in the LWV in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In fact, one offshoot organization was “Project Hope” that sent “care packages” to every servicemen overseas during the Vietnam conflict. Each month, ten or so women would gather in my parent’s basement around the ping pong table and distribute “goodies” into boxes for distribution. At the high point, we had 42 from Westport serving abroad. The servicemen, including myself, were so thankful that Christmas cards of thanks continued to her death in ’86. Congrats LWV for all you have done and are doing.

  3. I didn’t expect the video to be over 40 minutes long, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Great job by John Hartwell. Listening to the bold, bright, brave women of Westport’s yesterday will hopefully give the women of today
    the initiative to work just as hard for the betterment of the Town.

  4. Holly Wheeler

    Thanks to the League of Women Voters ‘pioneers’ for bringing Westport (and the country) out of the dark ages. And thanks also to John Hartwell and Lisa Shufro for creating this beautiful, inspirational, educational documentary. It should be required viewing for Staples students.

  5. I really wanted to go to college but couldn’t afford it. I still remember opening the letter stating that I had received a LWV scholarship. At that time I realized I was indeed going to college to pursue my dreams. Thanks LWV. You made a big difference in my life.

  6. Jackie Heneage

    Hey Dan, Thanks for reviewing ” A League of Their Own”. Only one comment: I served for three terms as First Selectman; two two year terms and one four year term from 1973 to 1981. My best, Jackie Heneage