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Catt, Carrie (Lane) Chapman

CATT, Carrie (Lane) Chapman

Born 9 January 1859, Ripon, Wisconsin; died 9 March 1947, New Rochelle, New York

Daughter of Lucius and Maria Clinton Lane; married LeoChapman, 1885; George W. Catt, 1890

A key architect of the woman-suffrage victory in 1920, Carrie Chapman Catt was essentially an activist-lecturer rather than a writer. In 1917, she edited her first book, Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, a series of six essays, four of which Catt wrote herself. Here she analyzed briefly the political obstacles women faced and focused on the practical reasons why the federal amendment route seemed the only truly feasible one. She discussed the problems of fraud women encountered in seeking state suffrage amendments and the causes of failure of the three 1916 referenda. She concluded with a chapter countering objections to the federal amendment.

In 1923 came her major work, Woman Suffrage and Politics which she coauthored with Nettie Rogers Shuler. Writing immediately after the 1920 victory, Catt gave major attention not to the history of the woman suffrage drive itself, nor even to her own role in devising the final winning strategy. Rather she dealt with the question of why this victory had been so long delayed. Catt contended the delay was not caused by a hostile or indifferent public opinion; instead, it was the result of political maneuvering, "the buying and selling of American politics." Twice, according to Catt, women found the suffrage movement tied in with other major reforms: black rights in the 1860s and the Prohibition campaign later. Twice politicians gave precedence to the other issues.

Catt focused particularly on the long period 1870-1910 when, she argued, the major obstacle was Prohibition. She denied any necessary linkage of suffrage with Prohibition. But the liquor forces, along with their allies, the political bosses, believed woman's suffrage would adversely affect their interests. These two groups worked actively if often secretly against woman suffrage and for two generations thwarted it.

Not till the rise of the Progressive Party in 1910 did proponents of woman suffrage secure a major political ally nationally. Then politicians of the two major parties began to break their long silence and opened the door for the successful new campaign. The final woman suffrage victory, however, Catt argued, was essentially a triumph for women acting from outside politics. She did pay limited tribute to male insiders who finally rescued woman suffrage from "the party trap."

Apart from these two books, Catt's other publications were generally speeches later issued as pamphlets. Prior to 1920, woman suffrage dominated her concern; later, her major cause became world peace. One of the most significant suffrage pamphlets was The Winning Strategy, a 1916 speech in which Catt presented her blueprint for the final victory campaign: a double effort for state enfranchisement and the federal amendment.

The thrust of her concern as proponent of world peace is seen in The Status Today of War vs. Peace, an address to the Third Conference on the Cause and Cure of War (1928). She defined the two great causes of war as being first, the dependence on "war preparedness as the way to peace" and second, economic colonialism with its underlying racism. The hope for peace she found in antiwar treaties between civilized nations and in an educated public opinion in which women must play a key part.

Catt's writings generally reflect the cool, logical style that hallmarked her political action. She avoids rhetorical flashes, relying instead on perceptive analysis and the weight of historical evidence. She saw suffrage as an evolutionary step, the logical outcome of an earlier commitment to democracy. She did reveal an underlying conservative cast of thought in her suffrage arguments. She indicted the major parties for offering the vote to unprepared black males and to uneducated Southern European males, many only on "first papers."

Though generally objective in her writings, Catt in Woman Suffrage and Politics often spoke as a partisan deeply wounded in the political struggle. The cost of the long-delayed victory for many women, she argued, was disillusionment with political parties. It is perhaps a mark of the struggle's cost to herself that after 1920 her major cause was a nonpartisan one, world peace.

Other Works:

Woman Suffrage and Its Basic Argument (Interurban Woman Suffrage Series, no. 2, 1907). Woman Suffrage andthe Home (Interurban Woman Suffrage Series, no. 4, 1907). A Bit of History (Interurban Woman Suffrage Series, no. 5, 1908). Perhaps (circa 1910). Do You Know? (1912). Woman Suffrage (1913). Feminism and Suffrage (1914). Address to the Congress of the United States (1917). Objections to the Federal Amendment (1919). Then and Now (1939). Who Can Answer? (1939).

Bibliography:

Fowler, R. B., Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician (1986). Library of Congress Manuscript Division, The Blackwell Family, Carrie Chapman Catt, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1975). Peck, M. G., Carrie Chapman Catt (1944). Stanton E. C. et al, History of Woman Suffrage (1881). Van Voris, J., Carrie Chapman Catt: A Life (1987).

Reference Works:

Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other reference:

American Political Science Review (Aug. 1923). NYT (13 May 1923).

—INZER BYERS

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