Carrie Chapman Catt (1859 – 1947)
Carrie Clinton Lane Chapman Catt was born January 9, 1859 in Ripon, Wisconsin and died March 9, 1947 in New Rochelle, New York. Catt was a feminist pioneer, leading the women’s rights movement for over 25 years and helping to inspire the Nineteenth Amendment for woman suffrage in 1920 (“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader,” n.d.). After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Catt dedicated the rest of her life to work for peace, which she believed to be the foundation for all human rights (Van Voris, 1987).
Catt’s interest in women’s rights began in her teens, when she realized her mother and father’s rights were fundamentally different (Michals, 2015). This stuck with her as she attended Iowa State College (now Iowa State University). After graduating in 1881, she became a high school principal, and two year later, Catt was appointed school superintendent, making her one of the first women to hold the position. In 1884, she married Leo Chapan, an editor, but he soon died, leaving Catt to throw herself into the organizing of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. In 1890, she married George W. Catt, an engineer, and they included in the prenuptial agreement that she was allowed to focus four months of each year exclusively to woman suffrage. George Catt was devoted to his wife’s cause, so when he died in 1905, he left her a significant sum of money, freeing Catt to dedicate the rest of her life to reform (“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader,” n.d.).
In 1900, Catt succeeded Susan B. Anthony as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), but resigned to care for George in the last year of his life. After her husband’s death, Catt reorganized the NAWSA and once again became its president until her death. While there, she trained women for direct political action and organized campaigns (“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader,” n.d.).
At the bequest of Miriam Leslie, $1 million was allocated to the organization, which then adopted Catt’s “Winning Plan.” This plan focused its efforts on changing the U.S. Constitution to incorporate national woman suffrage (“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader,” n.d.). Catt received some pushback from other notable suffragists such as Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, who favored militant strategies in order to pass a constitutional amendment (Michals, 2015).
Catt was adept at working on both federal and state levels; in 1917, New York State passed a referendum in support of suffrage, and in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson converted to the suffrage cause. The culmination of these efforts was the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in August 1920. After the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted, Catt reorganized the suffrage association into the League of Women Voters (“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader,” n.d.). Catt and the League’s two million members continued to work for progressive legislation throughout the country and bring women into mainstream politics. (Michals, 2015). Catt was acknowledged as a gifted politician by both friends and foes alike, despite her general ambivalence towards both politics and politicians (Fowler, 1986).
Throughout the 1920s, Catt dedicated herself to the peace movement, working with 11 national women’s organizations in the Committee on the Cause and Cure of War to urge the U.S. to work for peace on a global level. She supported the League of Nations, relief for Jewish refugees in Germany, and pushed for a child labor amendment. She also believed in international disarmament and prohibition. At the end of World War II, Catt became involved in the United Nations and used her influence to ensure women were incorporated in different commissions (“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader,” n.d.). She was the first international leader of the political feminist movement. Catt visited every continent and brought together diverse groups of women to form the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (Peck, 1975).
Catt’s notable works include Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement (1923) and Why Wars Must Cease (1935) (“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader,” n.d.).
“Carrie Chapman Catt: American feminist leader” (n.d.). In Encyclopedia Britannica online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Carrie-Chapman-Catt
Fowler, R. B. (1986). Carrie Catt: Feminist politician. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.
Michals, D. (2015). Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947). National Women’s History Museum. Retrieved from https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biographies/carrie-chapman-catt
Peck, M. G. (1975). Carrie Chapman Catt: A biography. New York, NY: Octagon Books.
Van Voris, J. (1987). Carrie Chapman Catt: A public life. New York, NY: The Feminist Press.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Paul, C. A. (2017). Carrie Chapman Catt (1859 – 1947). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/woman-suffrage/catt-carrie-chapman-1859-1947-2/
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