Sun rises over the hills and on a small town.

Reflecting on 99 Years of NLC: Strengthening America’s Cities, Towns & Villages


  • Clarence E. Anthony
December 12, 2023 - (4 min read)

On December 12, 1924, at 9:30 a.m., 10 municipal leaders from across the country sat down together at a table in Fraser Hall at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. Invited by John Stutz, the executive director of the Kansas Municipal League, the ten founders of the new Association of American Municipal Organizations set out with a big goal: to create a league that would provide services to our nation’s city officials.

99 years ago today, at that first official meeting, Stutz provided a report proposing to establish an official municipal association for the United States. Those ten delegates approved that report, Stutz was elected as the new organization’s full-time executive secretary, and the institution that would soon become NLC was born.

Every once in a while, in my current role as the CEO and Executive Director of NLC, I like to take a moment to think back about what it must have been like to be one of those ten founding leaders, 99 years ago. The truth is, while a lot has changed over the last century, a lot has also stayed the same in America’s cities, towns and villages. Stutz, along with the other leaders who convened in Fraser Hall, called that first meeting to order because they were struggling with many of the same issues we’re still dealing with today.

For example, in 2020, NLC’s member cities banded together to seek recovery strategies and federal support in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. In 1924, the Spanish flu epidemic was still in very recent memory, with community leaders actively working to find ways to reinvigorate their communities and bring their local economies back.

Just as city leaders are thinking about how we can bridge the digital divide and expand access to broadband in our communities, back then, these leaders were experimenting with the use of wireless telegraphs and commercial radio to communicate with and better serve their residents.

Today, our municipal officials are concerned with electric buses and downtown congestion – in 1924, local leaders were thinking about how cars and the newly invented automatic traffic signal could transform transportation in their cities.

The Association of American Municipal Organizations was founded as a novel way for leaders in city government – from across the entire country – to connect on their common challenges, to share new ideas with one another, and to take the solutions back to their communities to make them even better.

Those leaders who convened in Fraser Hall wanted cities to have an impact. They wanted one unified voice to represent local leaders in Washington, D.C. – to drive change and influence, both in the federal government and in communities across America. Today, our organization is so much more than any of those initial delegates probably ever could have imagined. Today, there are former NLC members who now walk the halls of Congress, who lead federal agencies, who sit in presidential cabinets – guided by their roots in local leadership. We have NLC members who are leaders in the corporate and nonprofit sectors today – who keep the perspectives and priorities of America’s cities, towns, and villages top of mind, because of their lived experiences in local government.

Today, NLC is a reputable brand, a trusted space for local leaders to convene, and a go-to resource for all things municipal government. We represent over 2,700 members and are the unified voice of our nation’s 19,495 municipalities – from metropolises like New York City to my own tiny hometown of South Bay, Florida. We stretch from coast to coast and have an engaged and diverse membership, with people of color, women, and LGTBQ+ leaders serving at the highest levels of our NLC leadership.  

Our organization has achieved a lot, but we’re nowhere near done. Over the next century, we will continue looking forward, striving to make more progress, building better communities, and delivering on our consistent mission: to relentlessly advocate for, and protect the interests of, cities, towns, and villages – by influencing federal policy, strengthening local leadership, and driving innovative solutions.

As I imagine, they believed back in 1924, and as you’ll certainly hear me say today, local leaders are the ones who get the work done. On this 99th anniversary, it is an honor for me and for all of the members of the National League of Cities to carry this remarkable legacy forward.

Learn More

Learn more about the history of NLC and how YOU can join us in celebrating our 100th anniversary!


About the Author

Clarence E. Anthony

About the Author

Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter: @ceanthony50.