Lavinia M. Engle was born in 1892 to Quaker parents, both of whom were politically driven. Her father was an official of the Department of Treasury, and her mother was a suffragist, who testified for women’s suffrage before Congress. After graduating from Antioch College, Engle joined the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1914, and was later instrumental in organizing the Suffrage Field Hospital during World War I staffed entirely by women. She went on to earn her degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University (the first woman to do so), and served as the leader of the League of Women Voters and the executive secretary of the Maryland League of Women Voters (1921–1936). During the 1930s, Engle served as the representative of Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates (1930–1934). In 1936 she was appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to join the Social Security Administration and eventually became the chief of field operations.