Tuesday, September 6, 2016

CENTENNIAL | Sep 7–Catt's Atlanta Speech (Updated Apr 6, 2017)

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), née Carrie Clinton Lane.
She gave a rousing speech for suffrage in 1916, as the National
Woman's Party was touring the country for Votes for Women.
Sep 7, 2016—This day 100 years ago, in Atlanta, Carrie Chapman Catt gave one of the great speeches of the 20th century.

She was trying to get women to support a federal suffrage amendment.

Her goal was to rally her suffragist troops in one of the most difficult parts of the country.  

She was born Carrie Clinton Lane on January 9, 1859 in Ripon, Wisc. (birthplace also of the Republican Party).

Carrie was the only woman in her class of 1880 from Iowa State College. She graduated first in her class. 

She became a teacher and then Superintendent of Schools in Mason City, Iowa and married newspaper editor Leo Chapman in 1885. Chapman, sadly, died of typhoid fever a year later. 

In 1890, Carrie was married again, to Iowa State alum George Catt, an engineer. Their pioneering prenup allowed her to devote two months in the spring and two months in the fall to suffrage issues. That same year, the two main U.S. organizations advocating suffrage, the NWSA and the AWSA, came together as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) through the work of Anna Howard Shaw and others.

In 1894, Carrie Catt supported Susan B. Anthony’s argument that the existing U.S. electoral system included many ignorant men who posed “great danger” to America, while excluding many educated women.  In the face of strong resistance in southern states to adding more people to the electorate, Anthony and Catt considered some kind of educational test or standard that would allow educated women to replace less-educated men.

Anthony in 1900 selected Catt to be her successor as president of NAWSA in 1900-1904. Catt decided that the organization was diffusing its resources by plodding along in every state. To  speed things up, she decided to focus all of the organization's resources on getting a federal amendment.  Subsequently labeled her “Winning Plan,” she sought to prioritize and refocus NAWSA's work  in different states: 
  • In states that had passed legislation recognizing women's right to vote in presidential elections, mostly in the West, NAWSA sought passage of a federal suffrage (Anthony) amendment.
  • In states that did not have presidential suffrage, but where there was a prospect of successfully amending their state constitution, NAWSA pressed for a referendum.
  • In most other states, NAWSA worked toward presidential suffrage via the legislature.
  • In Southern states, where prospects were weak, NAWSA just sought suffrage in the primaries.
Catt resigned her position as NAWSA president in 1904 to look after her ailing husband George Catt. He died in 1905, leaving Carrie with an independent income; four months later, in February 1906, Susan B. Anthony died. 

Anna Howard Shaw took over NAWSA between 1904 and 1915 and by the end of her presidency NAWSA had 44 state auxiliaries, each with local branches, and more than two million members.  

In the first decade of the 20th century, NAWSA was based primarily in New York City, where several large donors were located. In December 1912 NAWSA hired Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who had recently been in London and had worked with the Pankhursts on suffrage campaigns, to revitalize NAWSA's Congressional Committee in Washington, D.C. This morphed after the successful parade of March 1913 into the more independent Congressional Union and then in 1916 into the National Woman’s Party, as its activist leaders (notably Paul and Burns) parted ways from the larger and slower-moving NAWSA. 

Catt once again headed up NAWSA in the key years 1915-1920, and at President Wilson's request in 1917 pledged that NAWSA would support the war effort.  Catt created war-effort departments within NAWSA including Food Conservation, Protection of Women in Industry, and Overseas Hospitals. Catt herself also served in the Women’s Division of the Liberty Loan Committee. The first-ever Congresswoman, pacifist Jeanette Rankin, took her seat at that time. Although Congress took up little legislation unrelated to the war, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in creating a Woman Suffrage Committee, and NAWSA participated in hearings of the Senate's Woman Suffrage Committee. 

NAWSA volunteers were not always available for ongoing suffrage work on the amendment because many had volunteered for war service on the home front. Women’s support for the war effort was one argument used in favor of suffrage when Wilson changed his mind and supported a suffrage amendment in 1917. 

The Congressional Union included many pacifists like Dorothy Day, Crystal Eastman and Inez Milholland who did not support the war effort and focused only on suffrage. After World War I, Catt became a leader in work for world peace.

The House passed the Anthony Amendment on January 10, 1918, after a Congressional speech of support by President Wilson and much effort by suffragists. Catt was received by President Wilson for congratulations and thanks shortly after the vote. When the Amendment was finally passed by both houses of Congress (on the third try) in 1919, Catt led NAWSA’s coast-to-coast effort for its ratification by the then-minimum of 36 states. 

In 1920, having achieved its goal, NAWSA was replaced by the League of Women Voters, which had been founded the previous year.  The League was created to educate the electorate in a non-partisan manner, to register voters, and to encourage women to run for office. Catt’s exceptional organizational skills were vital to achieving American women’s right to vote, and to ensuring that women participate in the electoral and governing process.

Catt developed a strong international presence. In 1902 Catt co-founded and served as president until 1923 of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, active today as the International Alliance of Women. Although she won favor with President Wilson for her work with the American war effort, she later became an active leader for world peace and when she died in 1947 she left her significant estate, including many books, to form the Iowa State Peace Library.

Atlanta Speech Excerpt

Here is an excerpt from the end of the speech that Catt gave in Atlanta 100 years ago, one of two by Catt that rate as among the top 100 speeches of the 20th century:
Shall we play the coward … and leave the hard knocks for our daughters, or shall we throw ourselves into the fray, bare our own shoulders to the blows, and thus bequeath to them a politically liberated womanhood. 
We have taken note of our gains and of our resources! and they are all we could wish. Before the final struggle, we must take cognizance of our weaknesses. Are we prepared to grasp the victory? Alas, no! our movement is like a great Niagara with a vast volume of water tumbling over its ledge but turning no wheel. Our organized machinery is set for the propagandistic stage and not for the seizure of victory. 
Our supporters are spreading the argument for our cause; they feel no sense of responsibility for the realization of our hopes. Our movement lacks cohesion, organization, unity and consequent momentum. 
Behind us, in front of us, everywhere about us are suffragists–millions of them, but inactive and silent. They have been "agitated and educated" and are with us in belief. 
  • There are thousands of women who have at one time or another been members of our organization but they have dropped out because, to them the movement seemed negative and pointless. Many have taken up other work whose results were more immediate. Philanthropy, charity, work for corrective laws of various kinds, temperance, relief for working women and numberless similar public services have called them. Others have turned to the pleasanter avenues of club work, art or literature. 
  • There are thousands of other women who have never learned of the earlier struggles of our movement. They found doors of opportunity open to them on every side ... but they feel neither gratitude to those who opened the doors through which they have entered to economic liberty nor any sense of obligation to open other doors for those who come after.  
  • There are still others who, timorously looking over their shoulders to see if any listeners be near, will tell us they hope we will win and win soon but they are too frightened of Mother Grundy to help. There are others too occupied with the small things of life to help. They say they could find time to vote but not to work for the vote. There are men, too, millions of them, waiting to be called.  
These men and women are our reserves. They are largely unorganized and untrained soldiers with little responsibility toward our movement. Yet these reserves must be mobilized. The final struggle needs their numbers and the momentum those numbers will bring. 
Were never another convert made, there are suffragists enough in this country, if combined, to make so irresistible a driving force that victory might be seized at once. 
How can it be done? By a simple change of mental attitude. If we are to seize the victory, that change must take place in this hall, here and now!

Belcher-Hamilton, Lisa. “The League of Women Voters.” Cobblestone, November 1988, pp. 35-6.

Catt, Carrie Chapman, Home of. Carrie Chapman Catt Childhood Home .

Concise Dictionary of American Biography, 5th Edition, Volume 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1997, pp. 199-200.

Current Biography 1940. Maxine Block, ed. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1940, pp. 150-152.

Library of Congress, Carrie Chapman Catt Collection.

Morton, T. , Speed the Plough (1798). This comedy led to the contemporary catchphrase "What will Mrs Grundy say?"

National American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. 1. Edward James, ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 309-13.

National Women’s Hall of Fame, "Women of the Hall".

Reference Library of American Women, Vol.1. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale Research, 1999, pp.123-4.

Sherr, Lynn and Jurate Kanzickas. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women’s Landmarks. New York: Random House, 1994.

Turning Point Suffragist Memorial website. Plan for a suffrage memorial in Lorton, Va.

Webster’s American Biographies. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1984, pp. 67-8.

Women’s Almanac. Volume 2: Society. Linda Schmittroth and Mary Reilly McCall, eds. Detroit: UXL – Gale Research, 1997, pp. 250-51.