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Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt (January 9, 1859 – March 9, 1947) was an American women's suffrage leader who campaigned for the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave U.S. women the right to vote in 1920.[1] Catt served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was the founder of the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women. She "led an army of voteless women in 1919 to pressure Congress to pass the constitutional amendment giving them the right to vote and convinced state legislatures to ratify it in 1920" and "was one of the best-known women in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century and was on all lists of famous American women".[2]

Carrie Chapman Catt
Carrie Chapman Catt - National Woman's Party Records.jpg
Photograph from around 1913
Carrie Clinton Lane

(1859-01-09)January 9, 1859
DiedMarch 9, 1947(1947-03-09) (aged 88)
EducationIowa State University (1880)
Parent(s)Lucius Lane
Maria Louisa Clinton
Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw in 1917


Early lifeEdit

Catt was born Carrie Clinton Lane in Ripon, Wisconsin,[3] the daughter of Maria Louisa (Clinton) and Lucius Lane. Catt spent her childhood in Charles City, Iowa. She moved to Iowa at the age of seven where she began school. As a child, Catt was interested in science and wanted to become a doctor. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa.[4]

Catt's father was initially reluctant to allow her to attend college, but he relented, contributing only a part of the costs.[5] To make ends meet, Catt worked as a dishwasher, in the school library, and as a teacher at rural schools during school breaks.[5] Catt’s freshman class consisted of 27 students; six of whom were female.[5] Catt joined the Crescent Literary Society, a student organization aimed at advancing student learning skills and self-confidence. Because only men were allowed to speak in meetings, Catt defied the rules and spoke up during a male debate. This started a discussion about women’s participation in the group, and ultimately led to women gaining the right to speak in meetings.[6] Catt was also a member of Pi Beta Phi,[7] started an all girls' debate club, and advocated for women's participation in military drill.[8]

Catt entered college in 1877 and completed a bachelor's degree in general science in 1880, the only woman in her graduating class. At the time, the college's academic year ran from the spring through the fall, so Catt completed her degree in four years, not three years as is sometimes reported. Also, some biographies mistakenly state that Catt was valedictorian of her class. The college did not recognize valedictorians at that time and while Catt was a good student, there is no information on her class rank. After graduation, Catt returned to Charles City to work as a law clerk and, in nearby Mason City, as a school teacher and principal. In 1883, at the age of 24, she was appointed Mason City school superintendent.After three years, Catt graduated on November 10, 1880 with a Bachelor of Science degree.[9] She was the valedictorian[7] and only female in her graduating class.[10] She worked as a law clerk after graduating then she became a teacher and then superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa in 1885. She was the first female superintendent of the district.[9]

In February 1885, Carrie married Leo Chapman, publisher and editor of the Mason City Republican newspaper, but he died of typhoid fever in August 1886 in San Francisco, California, in August 1886,  where he had gone to seek new employment.[3] Arriving just a few days after his death, Catt remained in San Francisco where she canvassed for ads and wrote freelance articles to support herself.[9] In 1890, she married George Catt, a wealthy engineer and fellow alumnus of Iowa State University.[3] He encouraged her being involved in suffrage. He supported her suffrage work both financially and personally, and He encouraged her being involved in suffrage. Ttheir marriage allowed her to spend a good part of each year on the road campaigning for women's suffrage, a cause she had become involved with in Iowa during the late 1880s.

Role in women's suffrageEdit

National American Woman Suffrage AssociationEdit

In 1887, Catt returned to Charles City, Iowa, where she had grown up. She joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, organizing suffrage events throughout the state and working as a professional lecturer and writer. From 1890 to 1892, Catt served as the Iowa association's state organizer and recording secretary. During her time in office, Catt began working nationally for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and was even a speaker at its 1890 convention in Washington D.C.[10]

In 1892, Catt was asked by Susan B. Anthony to address Congress on the proposed woman's suffrage amendment. Catt would go on to succeed Anthony as NAWSA president. She was elected president of NAWSA twice; her first term was from 1900 to 1904 and her second term was from 1915 to 1920. She resigned after her first term to care for her ailing husband. She would resume leadership of NAWSA in 1915, which had become badly divided under the leadership of Anna Howard Shaw. During her later years of leadership she increased the size of the organization and raised many dollars of funds.[10]

In 1916, at a NAWSA convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Catt unveiled her "Winning Plan." Her campaign's goals were to obtain suffrage on both the state and federal levels, and to compromise for partial suffrage in the states resisting change. Under Catt's leadership, NAWSA won the backing of the U.S. House and Senate, as well as state support for the amendment's ratification.[10] Under Catt's leadership the movement focused on success in at least one eastern state, because previous to 1917 only western states had granted female suffrage. Catt thus led a successful campaign in New York state, which finally approved suffrage in 1917. During that same year President Wilson and the Congress entered World War I. Catt made the controversial decision to support the war effort, which shifted the public's perception in favor of the suffragists who were now perceived as patriotic. The suffrage movement received the support of President Woodrow Wilson in 1918.[10]

After endless lobbying by Catt and NAWSA, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. Congress on June 4, 1919. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, meeting the requirement of ratification by three-fourths of the states. on On August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification.[11][12]

International women's suffrage movementEdit

Suffrage Alliance Congress with Millicent Fawcett presiding, London 1909. Top row from left: Thora Dangaard (Denmark), Louise Qvam (Norway), Aletta Jacobs (Netherlands), Annie Furuhjelm (Finland), Madame Mirowitch (Russia), Käthe Schirmacher (Germany), Madame Honneger, unidentified. Bottom left: Unidentified, Anna Bugge (Sweden), Anna Howard Shaw (USA), Millicent Fawcett (Presiding, England), Carrie Chapman Catt (USA), F. M. Qvam (Norway), Anita Augspurg (Germany).

Catt was also a leader of the international women's suffrage movement.[13] She helped to found the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) in 1902, which eventually incorporated sympathetic associations in 32 nations.[10] She served as its president from 1904 until 1923. After her husband's death in 1905—followed by the deaths of Susan B. Anthony (February 1906), her younger brother William (September 1907) and her mother (December 1907)—Catt spent most of the following nine years promoting equal suffrage rights worldwide as International Women's Suffrage Alliance president.[11][9] After she retired from NAWSA, she continued to help women around the world gain the right to vote. The IWSA remains in existence, now as the International Alliance of Women.

League of Women VotersEdit

In 1919, Catt proposed the creation of a nonpartisan educational organization for women voters and on February 14, 1920—six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified—the national League of Women Voters (LWV) was organized in Chicago, IL. Catt was honorary president of the LWV for the rest of her life. The LWV remains active today and is frequently a training ground for women who later compete for electoral office.[9]

Role during the World WarsEdit

Catt's home in Paine Heights section of New Rochelle

Catt was active in anti-war causes during the 1920s and 1930s. Catt resided at Juniper Ledge in the Westchester County, New York community of Briarcliff Manor from 1919 through 1928[14] when she settled in nearby New Rochelle, New York.

At the beginning of World War I, Catt and fellow suffragist Jane Addams were asked to spearhead an organization that promoted peace. Catt was hesitant to join the peace movement because she believed this to be an issue that men and women should collaborate on.[15] Reluctantly, Catt and Addams called a meeting to gain support from the women's movement. Catt did not want to be the leader of the group because she believed that her support of the peace movement would hurt her international work with suffrage since leadership of the group would mean she was favoring one country over another.[15] From this meeting came the decision that the NAWSA would aid the government by helping women prepare to take over jobs while men were away and would also aid the Red Cross.[15] In addition, the group made it known that women's suffrage would remain their top priority. During 1917, Catt's attention remained strongly focused on women's suffrage, leading her to abandon her work with the peace movement.[15] This led to tension between Catt and other activists.[citation needed]

After the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, granting women the right to vote, Catt returned to the peace movement. Because she did not want to join any existing organization, she and a group of others founded their own organization, the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War (NCCCW).[15] The group divided the causes of war into four categories: psychological, economic, political, and social and contributory.[15] They did not include the exclusion of women from politics and the public sphere as a cause, even though they believed in equality for women. The organization believed that it was their job as women to end wars because women were seen as morally courageous, in contrast to their male counterparts who were viewed as physically courageous.[15]

During World War II, Catt resigned her role within NCCCW, admitting that the organization did not turn out the way she had planned.[15] The organization had not included all women, only middle-class white women. It did not strengthen the abilities of the members, but simply educated people on international affairs.[15]

In 1933, in response to Adolf Hitler's rise to power, Catt organized the Protest Committee of Non-Jewish Women Against the Persecution of Jews in Germany.[16][17]

The group sent a letter of protest to Hitler in August 1933 signed by 9,000 non-Jewish American women.[18] It decried acts of violence and restrictive laws against German Jews. Catt pressured the U.S. government to ease immigration laws so that Jews could more easily take refuge in America. For her efforts, she became the first woman to receive the American Hebrew Medal.[16][19] Catt was aware of her reputation - in 1938 she refused to sign a letter in support of leading Hungarian feminists Eugénia Meller and Sarolta Steinberger's request to emigrate to the USA. She noted that she was old and the letter would remain after her death.[20]

The last event she helped organize was the Women's Centennial Congress in New York in 1940, a celebration of the feminist movement in the United States.[21]

Death and recognitionEdit

Carrie Chapman Catt grave in Woodlawn Cemetery
U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Seneca Falls Convention; left to right: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucretia Mott

On March 9, 1947, Catt died of a heart attack in her home in New Rochelle, New York.[1] She was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.[22] alongside her longtime companion, Mary Garrett Hay, a fellow New York state suffragist, with whom she lived for over 20 years.[10][23]

Catt attained recognition for her work both during and after her lifetime. In 1926, she was featured on the cover of Time magazine and, in 1930, she received the Pictorial Review Award for her international disarmament work. In 1941, Catt received the Chi Omega award at the White House from her longtime friend Eleanor Roosevelt.[24] In 1975, Catt became the first inductee into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.[22] A stamp was issued in 1948 in remembrance of the Seneca Falls Convention, featuring Catt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott. In 1982, Catt was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 1992, the Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation named her one of the ten most important women of the century.[22] The same year, Iowa State University established the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and in 1992, and the Old Botany building on central campus was renovated and renamed Carrie Chapman Catt Hall in 1995.[22] Catt was played by Anjelica Huston in the 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels. In 2013, she was one of the first four women to be honored on the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge in Des Moines.[22]

On August 26, 2016 (Women's Equality Day), a monument commissioned by Tennessee Suffrage Monument, Inc.[25] and sculpted by Alan LeQuire was unveiled in Centennial Park in Nashville, featuring depictions of Catt, Anne Dallas Dudley, Abby Crawford Milton, Juno Frankie Pierce, and Sue Shelton White.[26][27]


During her early years in the NAWSA, Catt expressed her unease with the views of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founder of the women's suffrage movement who tended to be more radical than many of the younger activists.[28] In 1895, Stanton created a stir by writing The Woman's Bible, a critical examination of the Bible that challenged traditional religious beliefs that women are to be passive and are inferior to men. Many NAWSA members feared that the book would damage the suffrage movement by alienating its more orthodox members. Catt and Susan B. Anthony, the NAWSA's president, met with Stanton prior to its publication to voice their concerns, but Stanton was unmoved.[29]

An intense debate about Stanton's book occurred at the 1896 NAWSA convention after her opponents introduced a resolution declaring that the NAWSA "has no official connection with the so-called Woman's Bible".[30] Catt supported the resolution, along with Anna Howard Shaw, a future president of the organization, and other leading figures. Despite strong opposition from Anthony, who argued that there was no need for such a resolution, it passed by a vote of 54 to 41. Stanton afterwards tried to convince Anthony, her old friend and co-worker, that they should both resign from the NAWSA in protest, but Anthony refused. Stanton did not resign from the organization either.[31]

Some historians, including Elizabeth Gillespie McRae,[32] consider Catt's arguments and her stance on rights for women to be representative of white women only. While fighting a losing battle for women's rights in a Southern state, she once countered the opposition of racist senators by writing that "White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women's suffrage", since white women voted at higher rates - but ended by saying that such objections are "ridiculous" and "all people" should have the right to vote.[33][34] Amidon argues that "For Catt, people of color could be included in, or excluded from, participation in evolutionary narratives of progress depending on a wide range of factors, from ideological standards to local political circumstance."[35] Debra Marquart, a professor at Iowa State University, argues that “Carrie Chapman Catt is not a woman of our time, and therefore, we cannot hold her to the standards of our time.”[36] Catt also made inclusive statements about race: "the struggle for woman suffrage no white woman's struggle, but every woman's struggle."; "If it is expedient, then obviously all the people must be included."; and "there will never be a true democracy until every responsible and law-abiding adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own inalienable and unpurchasable voice in government."[37]

Catt's language resulted in a controversy at Iowa State University, the school from which she graduated. One student, who declared that the name of Catt Hall was offensive to black students,[36] engaged in a hunger strike to pressure the university to negotiate the renaming of the building.[36] He objected to Catt's statement that the only way to achieve a dominant white class was by allowing women to become "enfranchised".[36] The Ames chapter of the NAACP also objected to the building name.[38] The building was not renamed, however.

Personal lifeEdit

Carrie Chapman Catt and Mary Garrett Hay receive ballots to cast their first votes for president in 1920.

Despite being married twice, Catt did not live with her husband full-time. After the death of George Catt, she lived with Mary "Mollie" Garrett Hay, a suffragist leader from New York.[39] Hay was not a part of the international circle of elites that Catt aligned herself with; however, it was understood that they had a special relationship. Catt requested burial alongside Hay, rather than her first husband (her second husband's body was donated to medical science, according to his wishes).[39][40] When Hay died in 1928, Alda Wilson moved in with Catt and remained as her secretary until Catt's death.[41][42] Wilson was Catt's companion[43] and eventual estate executor, donating six volumes of photographs and memorabilia from Catt's estate to Bryn Mawr College.[44]

In popular cultureEdit

Winter Wheat, a new musical by Cathy Bush about the ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee, premiered at the Barter Theatre in 2016. The original version of the play had a limited run at the Barter in 2014. Carrie Chapman Catt and Mary Garrett Hay are characters in the play. The show also features anti-suffragist Josephine Anderson Pearson and Tennessee state representative Harry T. Burn, who cast the deciding vote for ratification in Tennessee.[45]

Catt was portrayed by Anjelica Huston in the film Iron Jawed Angels.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Carrie C. Catt Dies of Heart Attack. Woman's Suffrage Pioneer, Long an Advocate of World Peace, Succumbs at 88". The New York Times. March 10, 1947.
  2. ^ Van Voris, Jacqueline (1996). Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life. New York City: Feminist Press at CUNY. p. vii. ISBN 1558611398.
  3. ^ a b c Katja Wuestenbecker. "Catt, Carrie Chapman" in World War 1: the Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014, p. 359.
  4. ^ Mary Gray Peck. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Biography, New York, H. W. Wilson, 1944, pp. 30–32.
  5. ^ a b c Van Voris, p. 7.
  6. ^ Van Voris, p. 8.
  7. ^ "Carrie Lane Chapman Catt". Traditions. ISU Alumni Association. Archived from the original on May 4, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  8. ^ Peck, p. 33.
  9. ^ a b c d "Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947)". Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home and Museum: About Carrie Chapman Catt".
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ Library of Congress. Carrie Chapman Catt.
  13. ^ Nate Levin. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Life of Leadership. 2006, p. 62.
  14. ^ Peter D. Shaver (October 2003). "National Register of Historic Places Registration:Carrie Chapman Catt House". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Archived from the original on August 17, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2010.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Schott, Linda. "'Middle-of-the-Road' Activists Carrie Chapman Catt and the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War". Peace & Change, vol. 21, no. 1 (January 1996): 1–21.
  16. ^ a b Recker, Cristen. "Carrie Chapman Catt". Ladies For Liberty. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012. Retrieved April 2, 2011.
  17. ^ Wuestenbecker, Katja, "Catt, Carrie Chapman" in World War 1: the Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014, ISBN 9781851099641, Vol. 1, page 359.
  18. ^ Nasaw, David (2001). The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 489. ISBN 0-618-15446-9.
  19. ^ James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson (1974). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press. p. 312. ISBN 0-674-62734-2.
  20. ^ Francisca de Haan; Krasimira Daskalova; Anna Loutfi (2006). Biographical Dictionary of Women's Movements and Feminisms in Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe: 19th and 20th Centuries. Central European University Press. p. 334. ISBN 978-963-7326-39-4.
  21. ^ "Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, 1880–1958". Five College Archives & Manuscript Collections. Five College Consortium. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  22. ^ a b c d e Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. "Timeline of Carrie Chapman Catt’s Life".
  23. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons. 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 7790–7791). McFarland & Company, Inc. Kindle Edition
  24. ^ "Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947)".
  25. ^ "Too Few Statues of Women". Tennessee Suffrage Monument, Inc.
  26. ^ 5:33 pm, August 26, 2016. "Women's Suffrage Monument Unveiled – Story". Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  27. ^ "Nashville's Newest Monument Celebrates State's Role in Women's Winning The Right To Vote". Nashville Public Radio. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  28. ^ Griffith, Elisabeth (1984). In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 212. ISBN 0-19-503440-6
  29. ^ Griffith, p. 211
  30. ^ Harper (1898–1908), Vol. 2, p. 853
  31. ^ Griffith, p. 213
  32. ^ Elizabeth Gillespie McRae. "How White Supremacy Forgot the Women". The New York Times, February 2, 2018.
  33. ^ Gay, Kathlyn (2012). American dissidents : an encyclopedia of activists, subversives, and prisoners of conscience. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1598847643.
  34. ^ "Carrie Chapman Catt FAQs". Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  35. ^ Amidon, Kevin (April 2007). "Carrie Chapman Catt and the Evolutionary Politics of Sex and Race, 1885–1940". Journal of the History of Ideas. 68 (2): 309.
  36. ^ a b c d "Catt Fight at Iowa State". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 18 (Winter, 1997–1998), 73–74.
  37. ^ Carrie Chapman Catt Quotes Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947)
  38. ^ "Suffragette's Racial Remark Haunts College". The New York Times, May 5, 1996. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  39. ^ a b Rupp, Leila J. "Sexuality and Politics in the Early Twentieth Century: The Case of the International Women's Movement". Feminist Studies, vol. 23, no. 3 (Fall 1997): 577–605.
  40. ^ "George W. Catt Papers, RS 21/7/4, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library". Retrieved 2019-01-15.
  41. ^ Keller, Kristin Thoennes (2006). Carrie Chapman Catt: A Voice for Women. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Capstone. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-7565-0991-0.
  42. ^ Radke-Moss, Andrea G. (2008). Bright Epoch: Women and Coeducation in the American West. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 286. ISBN 0-8032-1942-3.
  43. ^ Morris, Ruth (January 13, 1934). "Possible Need of New War Seen by Pacifist Leader". Berkeley, California: Berkeley Daily Gazette. p. 2. Retrieved October 11, 2016.
  44. ^ Grubb, Barbara Ward (Fall 2004). "Carrie Chapman Catt Digital Image Collection" (PDF). Mirabile Dictu. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Friends of the Bryn Mawr College Library (8): 14–16. Retrieved October 11, 2016.
  45. ^

Further readingEdit

  • Fowler, Robert Booth. Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician (1986). ISBN 9781555530051
  • Van Voris, Jacqueline. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life (1996). ISBN 1558611398

External linksEdit