“However stupidly our country may have evaded the logical application at times, it has never swerved from its devotion to the theory of democracy.” — Carrie Chapman Catt, “The Last, Hard Fight,” Congressional committee address, 1917
Born this day in 1859: Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947), suffrage leader whose organizing genius led to the passage of the 19th Amendment
Carrie Chapman Catt was a moderate feminist and suffragist who, with supreme organizational skills and unflagging effort, directed the final phase of the suffrage movement. Her methodical, organized strategy pressured government to at last guarantee the vote to women.
Catt first began suffrage activities in her home state. In 1890 she organized the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. Before long she rose to national prominence. In 1900 she was selected by Susan B. Anthony to take over the presidency of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1904 she resigned the presidency to care for her ill husband, but continued her suffrage activities, including reorganizing NASWA chapters to reflect political districts. In 1915 she resumed the presidency. Catt’s strategy included winning suffrage at the state level, state by state, while at the same time pushing for the federal amendment. The more states that adopted suffrage, the more federal suffrage became, as she put it, an inevitability. Catt was methodical, tireless, motivating, and charismatic. She mobilized 1 million volunteers to campaign for suffrage. And they were busy:
To get the word male . . . out of the Constitution cost the women of the country fifty-two years of pauseless campaign. During that time they were forced to conduct fifty-six campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to urge Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; forty-seven campaigns to induce state constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to persuade state party conventions to include woman suffrage planks; thirty campaigns to urge presidential party conventions to adopt woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and nineteen campaigns with nineteen successive Congresses.
—Carrie Chapman Catt
Catt was also very active in suffrage at the international level and was instrumental in establishing the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (later the International Alliance of Women). She presided over several of its congresses and went on tours to help organize women in African and Asian nations.
After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Catt transformed NASWA into the League of Women Voters, but left it to the next generation of feminists to run (although she was honorary president until her death). She turned her attention next to pacifism. She established the Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, an association of women’s organizations that lobbied for peace and disarmament. She was an active supporter of the League of Nations and was involved in relief work for German Jewish refugees.
I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.