A dynamic speaker and tenacious organizer, Carrie Chapman Catt
was a powerful force in the
womenís suffrage movement.
Her relentless campaigning won
Woodrow Wilson's respect and support, and ultimately
led to passage of the Nineteenth Amendment
granting women the right to vote.
Born in Wisconsin in 1859, Carrie Lane moved with her family to
Iowa at the age of seven. She graduated from Iowa State University
as the only woman in her class and soon began work as a teacher,
principal, and school superintendent. She married newspaper editor
Leo Chapman in 1885, but their marriage was cut short one year later
when he died suddenly of typhoid fever. Four years later, she
married wealthy engineer George Catt.
Carrie Chapman Catt took her first step as a political activist
in 1886 when she joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. She
soon served as a delegate to the newly formed National American
Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). By 1900, Catt succeeded the
Susan B. Anthony as its
president. She took the fight for women's rights to the world stage,
organizing the International Woman's Suffrage Association in 1902.
She chose to curtail much of her suffrage work in 1904, though, to
care for her ailing husband.
In the years following her husband's 1905 death, a grieving Catt
resumed her work, concentrating on women's rights in the
international arena. Under other leadership, the national
organization, NAWSA, became divided, sorely in need of Catt's energy
and direction. Catt was not a firebrand suffragist; rather, she
worked on many fronts and used compromises to advance her cause
strategically. After hearing Catt address a women's suffrage
convention in Canton, New York in 1914, a reporter described her
speech as factual, conciliatory and delivered so as not to offend.
After reassuming leadership of NAWSA in 1915, she clashed with the
faction led by the far more combative Alice Paul,
who wanted to work for a constitutional amendment only at the federal
level. Catt saw that suffrage at the state level could help strengthen the movement for a
Constitutional amendment -- and where complete state suffrage could
not be enacted, Catt would settle for a partial solution. The schism
led Paul's faction to abandon NAWSA and form what would become the
National Woman's Party. But it was Catt's leadership - progressive
but not radical - that finally led President Wilson to throw his
support behind the amendment.
Fifty-one years after Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
founded NAWSA, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the vote in 1920.
Following this victory,Catt helped establish the League of Women
Voters to give American women guidance in using their new franchise.
In her later years, Catt spoke on behalf of
working women, worked
for pacifism, organized the National Conference on the Cause and
Cure of War, and lobbied for Jewish refugee relief efforts. Shortly
before her death in New Rochelle, New York in 1947, she would even
lend her hand in the founding of the United Nations.