This year marks the 90th anniversary of the passage of the U.S. Constitution's 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, and there are local celebrations to mark the occasion.

The League of Women Voters of the Bay Area is taking the lead in raising awareness of this seminal event in America's history, I was told last week when I met with Bonnie Hamlin, former president of the Oakland chapter, and Sandy Threlfall, also of Oakland and a member of the Bay Area-wide board.

They both explained that there are local chapters for each of the nine Bay Area counties, and currently there are 4,000 members (women, and — since 1974 — men) in 21 of these local leagues. All league chapters are nonpartisan and encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government. League membership is open to all men and women who are U.S. citizens and of voting age.

The Piedmont chapter is kicking things off at 4 p.m. today with a tea party at the Piedmont Community Center, 711 Highland Ave., with a special appearance (thanks to the magic of Stagebridge Theater) of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and League of Women Voters founder, Carrie Chapman Catt — three of the best-known leaders from that long-ago era of women's suffrage.

According to the history files, Catt established the League of Women Voters in 1920, just six months before the ratification of the 19th Amendment after more than 70 years of struggle to achieve the right to vote. So the League, too, is 90 this year.

"Our Oakland chapter chose the 19th of February for our celebration," Hamlin said when we met. "It seemed appropriate to acknowledge the 19th Amendment on the 19th."

All are invited to join in with local leaders and local artists to raise a toast to 90 years of civic engagement and making democracy work, at the Pro Arts Gallery, 150 Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.

"We wanted to build on downtown's 'Art Murmur' and other gallery events going on these days," Hamlin said, "so that is why we chose the Pro Arts Gallery."

The event is from 6 to 8:30 p.m., and more information is available at 510-834-7640 or http://lwvoakland.org. The Feb. 19 celebration also is being sponsored by the Berkeley/Albany/Emeryville chapter, she added.

At 1 p.m. Feb. 21, the Alameda Chapter is sponsoring a showing of "Iron Jawed Angels," an award-winning HBO movie, starring Hilary Swank and Anjelica Huston, chronicling the struggle to secure the right to vote. The event is free and will take place at the Little Theater, Alameda High School. For information, call 510-522-3425.

Oakland members have their chapter office in downtown Oakland in the historic McMullen Building, a five-story 1920s-era building at 13th and Franklin streets.

"Out our window is a view of the Tribune building across the street," Hamlin said. The McMullen Building, formerly headquarters for the Richfield Oil Co., is owned by former Oakland mayoral candidate Ted Dang.

Of course, the league neither supports nor opposes political candidates and parties. However, it does take stands on issues, Hamlin explained, and encourages voters to study issues thoroughly before voting.

"A good site to go to for more on that is Smartvoter.org," she said.

"Folks should also know about our upcoming annual luncheon, to be held on April 28, which will be emceed by Bay Area media personality Belva Davis," she said.

The luncheon will be a fundraiser that supports ongoing educational activities.

To learn more about the April luncheon and all the activities in Oakland and the Bay Area during this 90th anniversary year, visit www.lwvbayarea.org.

Finally, Kathleen diGiovanni, senior librarian at the Oakland Main Library, says to stay tuned for an exhibit later year on what women were doing in Oakland to achieve the right to vote.

Contact Annalee Allen at ldmksldy@aol.com.