Woods, Shear and Shayer honored in new book for their dedication to voters


Harriet Woods, Sue Shear and Sydell Shayer

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

The role of St. Louis suffragists in helping found the League of Women Voters in 1919 is documented in Avis Carlson’s “The First 40 Years” published in 1959. Now, more than 60 years later, the story continues with a new book.

“Raising Our Voices” chronicles by decade the everyday work of the League and three of its more prominent Jewish members to improve the St. Louis community and protect the rights of Missouri citizens.

“The book has profiles on both Harriett Woods and Sue Shear,” said Jean Dugan, executive director, League of Women Voters of Missouri, Metro St. Louis. “The book’s foreword was written by Sydell Shayer, who joined the League in 1957, and Shayer is also featured in the book.”

These three Jewish women are among more than two dozen St. Louis Leaguers who made a difference through the years.

The League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis is hosting a book launch party on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 1:30 p.m. at the Novel Neighbor, 7905 Big Bend in Webster Groves. Author Nicole Evelina, League member and USA Today best-selling author, will do a reading and sign books.

The book is sold on the Barnes & Noble and Amazon websites for $28.95, with a Kindle edition available soon for $2.99. A complete list of sources for the new book is posted as a PDF on the League’s website (lwvstl.org) along with a PDF of “The First 40 Years.”

Sydell Shayer

Sydell Shayer, 93, not only joined the League in 1957, but also became the local League President.

“There was so much to learn: how to be non-partisan, how to listen, how to be fair,” said Shayer. “There was a myriad of subjects to learn like redistricting, the merit system, and whether aldermen should be elected by districts or at-large.”

Over time, Sydell became a member of the board of ACLU, Confluence St. Louis and Missourians Against the Death Penalty as well as president of the local chapter of the American Jewish Congress and advocacy chair for the Jewish Community Relations Council. The mission of these organizations coincided with the League’s. It opened more opportunities for collaboration on important state and local objectives.

Here is an excerpt from Sydell’s forward in “Raising Our Voices”

“Little did I know in 1957 when I became a member of the League of Women Voters (LWV) that I was embarking on a six-decade journey with an organization that would influence my life in unforeseen ways. At age 27, I was a young mother looking for a stimulating, friendly and broadening experience. I was not disappointed. I am grateful for the opportunity to write this foreword because it enables me to relive the wonderful years of my life in the League.”

Harriett Woods

Harriett Woods, who died of leukemia on Feb. 8, 2007 at the age of 79, beat all kinds of political odds in 1984 when she was elected to the position of Lieutenant Governor of Missouri.

Woods’ political career started in the early 1960s when she complained to University City’s elected leaders about a noisy manhole cover on her street that kept her sons awake during nap time. Woods entered elective politics by winning a seat on the University City Council.

She was later elected to the Missouri State Senate, where she focused on curbing drunk driving and on nursing home regulations.

In 1982, Woods ran against Republican incumbent John C. Danforth for a U.S. Senate seat.  She had won the Democratic nomination over the objections of the party’s establishment.  Woods lost to Danforth by 25,000 votes out of 1.5 million cast.

In 1989, Woods left public office and devoted her career to encouraging other women to run for office. She founded the Institute for Policy Leadership at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and in 1991 she was elected head of the New York-based National Women’s Political Caucus.

She was a featured speaker at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.  After he took office, President Bill Clinton named Woods to chair the Coalition for Women’s Appointments.  She published a memoir, “Stepping Up to Power:  The Political Journey of American Women” in 2000.

Susan Shear

Sue Shear was the longest-serving woman in the history of the Missouri House of Representatives and a passionate advocate for women’s rights. Shear, who died of cancer in her Clayton home at the age of 80 on Nov. l5, 1998, was first elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1972, taking office in January 1973. Her 26 years in the Missouri House set an all-time record for length of tenure. When Shear was first elected to the legislature, the story in the Jewish Light was headlined, “A Woman’s Place is in the House.”

One of the first bills Shear introduced after she took office in 1973 was a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which had already been ratified by 25 states. The failure to obtain final passage of the ERA ratification bill was one of Shear’s biggest disappointments in her more than two-decade career in the House.

In May of 1998, the Missouri House passed a resolution creating the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the UMSL, which was also approved by the university’s Board of Curators.

For information about the book signing visit the League of Women Voters online.