Carrie Chapman Catt, 1859-1947

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Woman Category: Activism & Feminism and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Suffragist, The Pioneering Women of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood, and WDC Metro Area Women

  • HerStory
    Carrie Chapman Catt, 1859-1947

    Women’s suffrage leader, peace activist, and political strategist. Served as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and during her term, the 19th Amendment was ratified.

    Born as Carrie Clinton Lane in Ripon, Wisconsin, and at the age of 7, her family moved to Charles City, Iowa. As a teen, she was aware that her mother did not have the same voting rights as her father, and that realization had a significant impact on her life. After high school, she enrolled at Iowa State Agricultural College, despite her father’s objection, who was willing to pay only part of the costs. To earn money for her expenses, she worked during the school breaks. At the age of 21, she earned her bachelor’s degree in general science, the only woman to graduate in her class. After graduation, she worked as a law clerk at first and then as a teacher. In a short time, she was appointed as a principal and at the age of 26, became the first female superintendent of the district.
     
    In the same year, Catt married Leo Chapman, and the couple moved to San Francisco, where she worked as a journalist and was the first woman reporter in the city. Not long after, her husband died of typhoid fever, and she moved back to Charles City, where she became involved in the local and national Woman Suffrage Association. At 31, she married George Catt, a wealthy engineer who encouraged her activism work in the suffrage movement. She became a prominent member of the organization, serving as the group recording secretary as well as the Iowa association’s state organizer. In 1900, she succeeded Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), becoming more involved in speechmaking and campaign planning. In 1902, she was involved in founding the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) and served as its president for 19 years.
     
    She resigned NAWSA in 1904 to take care of her ill husband, but remained active in the organization’s activities. During 1905-1907 she faced the deaths of her husband, Susan B. Anthony, her brother, and her mother. Grief-stricken, she traveled abroad as IWSA president focusing on promoting women’s voting rights in other countries, supervising international campaigns, and making hundreds of speeches. In 1915, she returned to the US and was elected president of the NAWSA for the second time. In the following year, she unveiled her “Winning Plan” for promoting the Nineteenth Amendment – get the support of senators and representatives from all the US states. Although she was a peace activist, when the US entered WW1, she declared that the NAWSA supports the war effort. This controversial decision changed the public opinion of the organization, perceiving it as patriotic, and in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced his support for the suffragists. During the time that the 19th amendment was ratified by the states, she traveled all over the US to support local suffrage leaders in the campaigns in their states.
     
    After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26th, 1920, Catt retired from the NAWSA and channeled her focus to the peace movement, co-founding the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War. Though women in the US now had the right to vote, she continued to advocate for the cause, establishing the League of Women Voters to encourage women to use their new rights and assisting women around the world to gain their own rights.
     
    Carrie Chapman Catt died of a heart attack at the age of 88. She is buried alongside her longtime friend, the suffragist, Mary “Mollie” Garrett Hay.
     

    “In the adjustment of the new order of things, we women demand an equal voice; we shall accept nothing less”

    “In the adjustment of the new order of things, we women demand an equal voice; we shall accept nothing less”

     

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was married twice, and never had children.
    • In college, she joined a student organization, which in its meeting only men were allowed to speak. Ignoring the rules, she spoke up during a male debate, an act that sparked a discussion about women’s participation in the meeting, and eventually led to women’s right to speak at the meetings.
    • In addition to her activism work as a suffragist, she was also a peace activist, and in 1915, she was one of the founders of the Woman’s Peace Party.
    • During college, she was a member of Pi Beta Phi, established a girls debate club, and promoted women’s participation in military drill.
    • In 1933 she established the Protest Committee of Non-Jewish Women Against the Persecution of Jews in Germany, protesting Hitler’s actions against German Jews. She worked for Jewish refugee relief, putting pressure on the government to allow more Jews to take refuge in the US. For those actions, she was honored with the American Hebrew Medal, the first woman to receive one.
    • Her childhood home in Iowa is now a museum dedicated to her life – the Carrie Lane Chapman Catt Girlhood Home and Museum.
    • The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University was named in her honor in 1992.
    • In the movie, ‘Iron Jawed Angels’ (2004) Anjelica Huston played Chapman Catt’s character
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * In 1923, she co-wrote with Nettie Rogers Shuler the book “Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement
    * Books about her

    Awards:

    * Pictorial Review Award
    * Chi Omega award
    * The first inductee into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame
    * American Hebrew Medal

  • Watch and Learn More
    Carrie Chapman Catt, 1859-1947

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Carrie Chapman Catt, 1859-1947

    Carrie Chapman Catt

    Carrie Chapman Catt

  • Photo credit - WWP team


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