As a member of the League of Women Voters for most of her adult life, Betty Lou Nault is committed to providing people with solid information about political candidates and issues and encouraging them to vote.
Nault has been president of the La Porte County League of Women Voters since 1999 and said that it is one of Indiana’s oldest League chapters. She first joined the League of Women Voters when she was in her 20s and strongly believes in the process of reaching consensus that lies at the heart of the organization. The League, which is open to women and men, is nonpartisan and does not endorse any political party or candidate. Rather, it promotes participation in public policy debates and decision-making.
The La Porte County League recently hosted a Candidate Forum featuring the 2012 candidates for county offices. It was an opportunity for those who were running to state their case and answer questions from the audience.
Regarding the Candidates Forum, she said, “It’s important to a democracy because it’s a vehicle that enables the League to work with the candidates to find out what they are all about, so we can make informed decisions. We bring the candidates and voters together so voters can ask the candidates questions they have.”
La Porte County League members made a concerted effort to register people to vote this fall, Nault said, and were most successful at Michigan City High School.
“It’s important to develop in kids the idea that they’re going to vote and it’s part of being a citizen,” Nault said.
She practices what she preaches, recalling the time that her youngest son was attending Ball State University and kept putting off a trip back home to get registered. She drove to Muncie, took him to Fort Wayne, got him registered and drove him back to campus.
Nault will be 83 in November and has had a lifelong interest in politics. She grew up in Kansas City and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kansas in 1951. As an undergraduate in a sorority and student government, she said, “We were forever chopping away at barriers for women. It was already a different time for women. There was a generation of women who had gone to college and graduated. We not only got husbands, we got degrees.”
But Nault’s father disinherited her when, in her 20s, she was a “gung-ho” supporter of Democrat Adlai Stevenson, who ran against her father’s candidate, Republican Dwight Eisenhower.
Betty Lou and her husband Clifford raised four children, three sons and a daughter, primarily in Fort Wayne, where Clifford was an English professor at Indiana University Purdue University. Betty Lou became president of the Fort Wayne League and was vice president of Job Works, an employment and training agency.
The couple intended to move to this area when they retired, but her husband passed away in June 1993, three days before they were scheduled to take a place in Dunescape, on Lake Michigan in Sheridan Beach. Instead, she bought the house she now lives in and commuted here on weekends while continuing to work in Fort Wayne. She moved to Sheridan Beach full time in 1999.
Nault has been active at the state level with the League of Women Voters, but prefers the intimacy of local involvement. She is enamored of the League’s process of reaching consensus on important issues by carefully examining all sides before taking a position.
“I have never been in a League where there was animosity,” she said. “We are like-minded people who can sit down and may not agree on anything when we start. I love that process of talking through something without becoming mad at each other. It sets us apart from other quasi-political organizations.
“It’s all about the issues and not about the partisanship. It’s a way to get involved for women.”
One issue the League recently opposed was the movement in Indiana to require registered voters to have identification. The League currently supports the idea of voting centers, which allows voters to go to a polling place wherever they happen to be, rather than having report to a particular precinct. Computerization has made that a viable option, Nault said.
Nault is proud of the fact that the nonpartisan League of Women Voters sponsored the U.S. Presidential debates beginning in 1976, before pulling out in 1988 when the two parties tried to dominate the proceedings. As a champion of equal rights for women, she actively pushed for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which died in 1982.
Nault and her daughter Phoebe travelled to Seneca Falls, N.Y. to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, which assures women the right to vote. Seneca Falls was the site of the 1848 women’s rights convention that launched the suffrage movement that lead to passage of the 19th Amendment.
“It’s the Holy Grail of the suffrage movement,” Nault said. “It definitely lived up to our expectations. When we were walking around, you could imagine Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”