Catt, Carrie Chapman

views updated May 29 2018

7: Carrie Chapman Catt

Excerpt from "The Crisis"

    Speech delivered in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1916.

    Reprinted from the Web site A Document History of Social Justice; available online at

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) was a significant force for the women's suffrage (right to vote) movement. She was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) from 1900 to 1904 and again from 1915 to 1920. While other leaders in the women's rights movement wanted to address numerous issues and engage in public displays of protest, Catt began in 1915 to focus NAWSA's efforts exclusively on voting rights. She organized large groups of supporters to lobby the U.S. Congress for a Constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, and then she organized groups within states to pressure their legislatures to pass the amendment. An amendment to the Constitution must be approved by the U.S. Congress, but to become law it also must be approved by three-fourths of the states. Each state legislature debates and votes on whether to approve amendments to the Constitution.

"Before the vote is won, there must and will be a gigantic final conflict between the forces of progress, righteousness and democracy and the forces of ignorance, evil and reaction. That struggle may be postponed, but it cannot be evaded or avoided. There is no question as to which side will be the victor."

Catt succeeded her close friend Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) as president of NAWSA in 1900. She stepped down in 1904, however, to care for her ailing husband. Grief-stricken after his death in 1905 and Anthony's in 1906, Catt began to travel. She worked with the International Woman Suffrage Alliance to promote women's suffrage around the world. NAWSA turned to her for leadership again in 1915 when a segment of the organization followed outgoing president Alice Paul (1885–1977), who favored a more combative, or confrontational, style in pursuit of women's rights. Under Catt, NAWSA remained neutral in political elections and shied away from taking on controversial causes other than the right for women to vote in national elections.

NAWSA was disorganized when Catt took over in 1915. At an emergency meeting of NAWSA in 1916, Catt rallied the group with her presidential address. Called "The Crisis," the speech consists of two parts. In the first part, Catt seeks to demonstrate that the suffrage movement was in a crisis; in the second half, Catt unveils her "Winning Plan." She argues that NAWSA must become a single-issue group, pursuing only suffrage and focusing pressure on the U.S. Congress to vote for the federal suffrage amendment that had failed to pass in 1915. Catt had kept the "Winning Plan" secret out of concern that more activist members, or those who followed Alice Paul, would criticize it before Catt had an opportunity to present it to the group.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "The Crisis":

  • Catt wanted to demonstrate that the suffrage movement was in a crisis in order to rally the cause. World War I (1914–18) was raging in Europe at the time, and many women had entered the workforce in European countries to help support the war effort and take the place of men who had gone off to fight. Catt declared that change was in the air all around the world and that American women needed to seize the moment to better their status in the United States.
  • In her speech, Catt states that social change is similar to evolution, whereby something develops, or evolves, gradually. Social change, therefore, according to Catt, must "pass through the stages of agitation and education and finally through the stage of realization." She follows this observation by identifying the suffrage movement as being in the third stage. However, since the federal suffrage amendment failed to pass in 1915, the third stage was still incomplete, and therefore in a crisis.
  • Catt uses a metaphor, or a comparison of two unlike things, to equate the state of the women's suffrage movement at the time of her speech (1916) to that of a house. The foundation was laid by early activists for women's suffrage, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), Lucretia Mott (1793–1880), Susan B. Anthony, and others of the nineteenth century. Women from 1900 to 1915 added the capstone—the top stone of a structure or wall, or a crowning achievement. She tells the women in the audience that the roof that would complete the house (in other words, winning the right to vote) is in reach. She urges them to complete the task.

Excerpt from "The Crisis"

I have taken for my subject, "The Crisis," because I believe that a crisis has come in our movement which, if recognized and the opportunity seized with vigor [power], enthusiasm and will, means the final victory of our great cause in the very near future. I am aware that some suffragists do not share this belief; they see no signs nor symptoms today which were not present yesterday; no manifestations [evidence] in the year 1916 which differ significantly from those in the year 1910. To them, the movement has been a steady, normal growth from the beginning and must so continue until the end. I can only defend my claim with the plea that it is better to imagine a crisis where none exists than to fail to recognize one when it comes; for a crisis is a culmination [end result] of events which calls for new considerations and new decisions. A failure to answer the call may mean an opportunity lost, a possible victory postponed.

The object of the life of an organized movement is to secure its aim. Necessarily, it must obey the law of evolution and pass through the stages of agitation and education and finally through the stage of realization. As one has put it: "A new idea floats in the air over the heads of the people and for a long, indefinite period evades their understanding but, by and by, when through familiarity, human vision grows clearer, it is caught out of the clouds and crystalized into law." Such a period comes to every movement and is its crisis. In my judgment, that crucial moment, bidding us to renewed consecration [dedication] and redoubled [intensified] activity has come to our cause. I believe our victory hangs within our grasp, inviting us to pluck it out of the clouds and establish it among the good things of the world.

If this be true, the time is past when we should say: "Men and women of America, look upon that wonderful idea up there; see, one day it will come down." Instead, the time has come to shout aloud in every city, village and hamlet, and in tones so clear and jubilant that they will reverberate [echo] from every mountain peak and echo from shore to shore: "The woman's Hour has struck." Suppose suffragists as a whole do not believe a crisis has come and do not extend their hands to grasp the victory, what will happen? Why, we shall all continue to work and our cause will continue to hang, waiting for those who possess a clearer vision and more daring enterprise. On the other hand, suppose we reach out with united earnestness and determination to grasp our victory while it still hangs a bit too high? Has any harm been done? None!

Therefore, fellow suffragists, I invite your attention to the signs which point to a crisis and your consideration of plans for turning the crisis into victory.

FIRST: We are passing through a world crisis. All thinkers of every land tell us so; and that nothing after the great war will be as it was before. Those who profess to know, claim that 100 millions of dollars are being spent on the war every day and that 2 years of war have cost 50 billions of dollars or 10 times more than the total expense of the American Civil War [1861–65]. Our own country has sent 35 millions of dollars abroad for relief expenses.

Were there no other effects to come from the world's war, the transfer of such unthinkably vast sums of money from the usual avenues to those wholly abnormal would give so severe a jolt to organized society that it would vibrate around the world and bring untold changes in its wake….

In Europe, from the Polar Circle to the Aegean Sea, women have risen as though to answer that argument. Everywhere they have taken the places made vacant by men and in so doing, they have grown in self-respect and in the esteem of their respective nations. In every land, the people have reverted [returned] to the primitive division of labor and while the men have gone to war, women have cultivated the fields in order that the army and nation may be fed. No army can succeed and no nation can endure without food; those who supply it are a war power and a peace power.

Women by the thousands have knocked at the doors of munition factories and, in the name of patriotism, have begged for the right to serve their country there. Their services were accepted with hesitation but the experiment once made, won reluctant but universal praise. An official statement recently issued in Great Britain announced that 660,000 women were engaged in making munitions in that country alone. In a recent convention of munition workers, composed of men and women, a resolution was unanimously passed informing the government that they would forego vacations and holidays until the authorities announced that their munition supplies were sufficient for the needs of the war and Great Britain pronounced the act the highest patriotism….

On fields of battle, in regular and improvised hospitals, women have given tender and skilled care to the wounded and are credited with the restoration of life to many, heroism and self-sacrifice have been frankly acknowledged by all the governments; but their endurance, their skill, the practicality of their service, seem for the first time, to have been recognized by governments as "war power". So, thinking in war terms, great men have suddenly discovered that women are "war assets". Indeed, Europe is realizing, as it never did before, that women are holding together the civilization for which men are fighting. A great search-light has been thrown upon the business of nation-building and it has been demonstrated in every European land that it is a partnership with equal, but different responsibilities resting upon the two partners….

In all the warring countries, women are postmen, porters, railway conductors, ticket, switch and signal men. Conspicuous [obvious] advertisements invite women to attend agricultural, milking and motor-car schools. They are employed as police in Great Britain and women detectives have recently been taken on the government staff. In Berlin [Germany], there are over 3,000 women streetcar conductors and 3,500 women are employed on the general railways. In every city and country, women are doing work for which they would have been considered incompetent two years ago….

The economic change is bound to bring political liberty. From every land, there comes the expressed belief that the war will be followed by a mighty, oncoming wave of democracy for it is now well known that the conflict has been one of governments, of kings and Czars, Kaisers and Emperors; not of peoples. The nations involved have nearly all declared that they are fighting to make an end of wars. New and higher ideals of governments and of the rights of the people under them, have grown enormously during the past two years….

"The Woman's Hour has struck." It has struck for the women of Europe and for those of all the world. The significance of the changed status of European women has not been lost upon the men and women of our land; our own people are not so unlearned in history, nor so lacking in National pride that they will allow the Republic to lag long behind the Empire, presided over by the descendant of George the Third. If they possess the patriotism and the sense of nationality which should be the inheritance of an American, they will not wait until the war is ended but will boldly lead in the inevitable march of democracy, our own American specialty. Sisters, let me repeat, the Woman's Hour has struck!

SECOND: As the most adamantine [hardest] rock gives way under the constant dripping of water, so the opposition to woman suffrage in our own country has slowly disintegrated before the increasing strength of our movement….

Those who came after only laid the stones in place. Yet, what a wearisome task even that has been! Think of the wonderful woman who has wandered from village to village, from city to city, for a generation compelling men and women to listen and to reflect by her matchless eloquence….

The stones in the foundation have long been overgrown with the moss and mould of time, and some there are who never knew they were laid. Of late, four cap-stones at the top have been set to match those in the base [foundation], and we read upon the first: "The number of women who are graduated from high schools, colleges and universities is legion [large]"; upon the second, "The Christian Endeavor, that mighty, undenominational church militant, asks the vote for the women and the Methodist Episcopal Church, and many another, joins that appeal," upon the third, "Billions of dollars worth of property are earned [and] owned by women; more than 8 millions of women are wage-earners. Every occupation is open to them"; upon the fourth: "Women vote in 12 States; they share in the determination of 91 electoral votes."

After the cap-stones and cornice [top molding] comes the roof. Across the empty spaces, the rooftree [support beam] has been flung and fastened well in place. It is not made of stone but of two planks, —planks in the platform of the two majority parties, and these are well supported by planks in the platforms of all minority parties.

And we who are the builders of 1916, do we see a crisis? Standing upon these planks which are stretched across the top-most peak of this edifice [structure] of woman's liberty, what shall we do? Over our heads, up there in the clouds, but tantalizing [exciting] near, hangs the roof of our edifice—the vote. What is our duty? Shall we spend time in admiring the capstones and cornice? Shall we lament the tragedies which accompanied the laying of the cornerstones? or, shall we, like the builders of old, chant, "Ho! all hands, all hands, heave to! All hands, heave to!" and while we chant, grasp the overhanging roof and with a long pull, a strong pull and a pull together, fix it in place forevermore?

Is the crisis real or imaginary? If it be real, it calls for action, bold, immediate and decisive….

Before the vote is won, there must and will be a gigantic final conflict between the forces of progress, righteousness and democracy and the forces of ignorance, evil and reaction. That struggle may be postponed, but it cannot be evaded or avoided. There is no question as to which side will be the victor.

Shall we play the coward, then, and leave the hard knocks for our daughters, or shall we throw ourselves into the fray [fight], 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 [recognize] 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….

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!

The old belief, which has sustained suffragists in many an hour of discouragement, "woman suffrage is bound to come," must give way to the new, "The Woman's Hour has struck." The long drawn out struggle, the cruel hostility which, for years was arrayed [arranged] against our cause, have accustomed suffragists to the idea of indefinite postponement but eventual victory. The slogan of a movement sets its pace. The old one counseled patience; it said, there is plenty of time; it pardoned sloth [laziness] and half-hearted effort. It set the pace of an educational campaign. The "Woman's Hour has struck" sets the pace of a crusade which will have its way. It says: "Awake, arise, my sisters, let your hearts be filled with joy—the time of victory is here. Onward March."

If you believe with me that a crisis has come to our movement,—if you believe that the time for final action is now, if you catch the rosy tints of the coming day, what does it mean to you? Does it not give you a thrill of exaltation [extreme joy]; does the blood not course more quickly through your veins; does it not bring a new sense of freedom, of joy and of determination? Is it not true that you who wanted a little time ago to lay down the work because you were weary with long service, now, under the compelling influence of a changed mental attitude, are ready to go on until the vote is won. The change is one of spirit! Aye, and the spiritual effect upon you will come to others. Let me borrow an expression from Hon. John Finlay: What our great movement needs now is a "mobilization of spirit",—the jubilant, glad spirit of victory. Then let us sound a bugle call here and now to the women of the Nation: "The Woman's Hour has struck." Let the bugle sound from the suffrage headquarters of every State at the inauguration of a State campaign. Let the call go forth again and, again and yet again. Let it be repeated in every article written, in every speech made, in every conversation held. Let the bugle blow again and yet again. The Political emancipation [liberation] of our sex call[s] you, women of, America, arise! Are you content that others shall pay the price of your liberty? Women in schools and counting house, in shops and on the farm, women in the home with babes at their breasts and women engaged in public careers will hear. The veins of American women are not filled with milk and water. They are neither cowards nor slackers. They will come. They only await the bugle call to learn that the final battle is on.

What happened next …

NAWSA endorsed Catt's plan, but many other women's rights activists continued to fight for various causes for women. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, women's rights issues lost attention to the war effort. Catt was deeply against war but wanted to maintain momentum for women's suffrage. She remained publicly visible by serving on the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defense to show support and to help showcase the vital roles women played in the war effort.

On January 10, 1918, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the suffrage amendment. However, the U.S. Senate delayed its vote and eventually rejected the amendment in October 1918. Rallying NAWSA, Catt plunged into another year of intensive campaigning. In mid-1919 both the House and the Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment—which grants national voting rights to women—paving the way for state ratification. Catt sent telegrams to the state governors, urging them to call immediate special sessions of their state legislatures to ratify the amendment. She mobilized women's organizations in each state to pressure their legislators and went on a "Wake up America" tour in support of the amendment.

In August of 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment officially became part of the U. S. Constitution. After the ratification of the suffrage amendment, Catt stepped down from the presidency of the NAWSA. She continued to work with the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and founded the new League of Women Voters. Her main focus became world peace. In 1925 she founded the Committee on the Cause and Cure of War to educate the public on peace issues. During the 1930s Catt worked to help Jewish victims of Nazism and helped form the Protest Committee of Non-Jewish Women Against the Persecution of Jews in Germany in 1933.

Did you know …

  • Catt was the only woman in her 1880 graduating class at Iowa State Agricultural College. She worked her way through college by washing dishes, teaching, and working in the school's library. She graduated at the top of her class.
  • Although she worked tirelessly for national voting rights for women, Catt believed that economic power, through women entering the workplace, would be the key to improving women's lives.
  • Catt was so well respected that when wealthy publisher Miriam Leslie died in 1914, she left more than $1 million for Catt to use for the cause of women's suffrage. NAWSA used the money to set up a network of state organizations and to promote the suffrage cause through pamphlets, buttons, flyers, leaflets, posters, playing cards, and the newspaper Woman Citizen.

Consider the following …

  • Research Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party (NWP) and compare their tactics with those of NAWSA, which was led by Catt. The NWP participated in demonstrations, parades, mass meetings, pickets, and hunger strikes, among other methods, while NAWSA used more conventional methods for drawing attention to its cause. Summarize both approaches and argue for which one you believe is most effective.
  • In "The Crisis," Catt states that social change is similar to evolution and must "pass through the stages of agitation and education and finally through the stage of realization." Consider how this view applies to past or present rights and movements (including other entries in this book) and whether or not Catt's view is correct. Consider, for example, that organizations for women's suffrage worked for decades before winning national voting rights and that it won't be until after the year 2050 that women will have had national voting rights for half of the existence of the United States. (The first presidential election was held in 1789, and the first time women voted in a presidential election was 131 years later, in 1920.)

For More Information


Keller, Kristin Thoennes. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Voice for Women. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books, 2005.

Somervill, Barbara A. Votes for Women!: The Story of Carrie Chapman Catt. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2002.


Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.∼cccatt/ (accessed on June 17, 2006).

Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home. (accessed on June 17, 2006).

"Carrie Chapman Catt: Suffragist and Peace Advocate." Woman of Courage Profiles. St. Lawrence County Branch (NY) of the American Association of University Women. (accessed on June 17, 2006).

Catt, Carrie Chapman. "The Crisis." A Document History of Social Justice. (accessed on June 17, 2006).

Suffragists: People who promote the right to vote.

Agitation: Stirring up the public to bring about reform.

The Great War: World Warl.

Usual avenues: Common investments.

Wholly abnormal: Money used for waging war.

Primitive division of labor: A reference to prehistoric times when men hunted and women gathered food.

Munition factories: Factories where war materials are made.

Improvised hospitals: Temporary hospitals set up near battlefields.

Streetcar: A form of public transportation in which vehicles run on rails laid into the street.

George the Third: Reference to King George III (1738–1820), who ruled Great Britain during the American Revolution.

Cap-stones: Stones topping a wall; crowning achievements.

The Christian Endeavor: An organization started in 1881 to represent many different religious denominations.

Planks: Reference to statements of support of an issue appearing in a political party's platform.

Two majority parties: Democrats and Republicans.

Bequeath: Leave as a gift.

Niagara: Reference to Niagara Falls on the U.S./Canadian border.

Propagandistic: Information reflecting the views of those advocating a cause.

Inauguration: Formal beginning.

Catt, Carrie Chapman

views updated May 29 2018


(b. January 9,1859; d. March 9, 1947) President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and founder of the League of Women Voters.

A leader of the woman suffrage movement, Carrie Chapman Catt was a peace advocate during most of World War I, then became an influential supporter of the American war effort. Born Carrie Clinton Lane, she demonstrated a strong independent streak early in life. She paid her own way through Iowa State College and after graduation worked as a high school principal. She married Leo Chapman in 1885, but he died of typhoid fever in 1886, leaving her nearly penniless. She scraped together a living as a lecturer and newspaper editorial assistant, and she joined the Iowa Suffrage Association, where she developed her organizational skills. In 1890, she married George Catt, a feminist and financially successful engineer. Elected president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1900, she served for four years, then headed the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

When World War I began, Catt was sailing home from a conference in London where she and women from twenty-six nations had jointly written a manifesto pleading for a diplomatic solution to the mounting crisis. Although as women they lacked political power in their native lands, they hoped that together they could make a difference. The failure of the manifesto to influence events strengthened Catt's resolve to do all she could to obtain full political rights for women. She believed that women were inherently less inclined than men to favor war and that if nations were ruled by men and women equally war would become a rare occurrence. In her opinion, lasting world peace was unlikely to arrive anytime soon, but it was guaranteed never to arrive at all as long as the female half of the human race remained politically powerless.

From the first, Catt viewed the war in Europe as a catastrophe for humanity. In late 1914, she helped organize a peace parade in New York City, then enlisted the help of well-known pacifist and pioneer social worker Jane Addams to organize women's opposition to the war. Catt wanted Addams to spearhead women's antiwar activities so that her own name would not become prominent in the peace movement. Catt worried that she was so well known as an advocate of woman suffrage that if she became closely identified with pacifism she might harm the cause of woman suffrage among Americans who

supported the war. Catt refused a leadership position in the peace movement, but she remained active behind the scenes, lending her formidable management skills and political connections. She occasionally met with President Woodrow Wilson to urge him to continue his policy of neutrality. Her participation in the peace movement, although low key, helped it stay alive.

In December 1915, Catt once again became president of the NAWSA, and over the next few years she led the woman suffrage movement to national victory. Her success lay in part in her adroit handling of the volatile issues of peace, patriotism, and woman suffrage. As America inched closer to war, most antisuffragists lumped suffragists and peace groups into a single category, calling them disloyal and pro-German. In February 1917, Catt called a meeting of the NAWSA and convinced the delegates that U.S. entry into the war was imminent and that to avoid being labeled subversive the organization must endorse war-readiness. After the United States entered the war, Catt served on the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense and worked to get women—especially suffragists—involved in war-related work. She wanted the public to associate the NAWSA with patriotism, and she hoped that after the war women's service to the nation would be rewarded by recognition of their right to vote. She kept the war-related contributions of women in general, and the NAWSA in particular, constantly in the news. Her strategy worked; after the armistice, many politicians who had formerly opposed woman suffrage now supported it on the grounds that women had proven themselves worthy of it during the war.

Through her wartime leadership of the NAWSA, and especially her success in encouraging women to take up war-related work, Catt helped change Americans' views of women's ability to participate fully in civic life. However, Catt never stopped hating war, and during the 1920s she devoted herself to the cause of world peace. Yet by the late 1930s she feared that the Nazis would destroy civilization and she denounced isolationism. She died in 1947, happy to have seen the birth of the United Nations.


Fowler, Robert Booth. Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986.

Peck, Mary Gray. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Biography. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1944.

Van Voris, Jacqueline. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1987.

Janis Appier

See also:Addams, Jane; Civil Liberties, World War I; Feminism; Women and World War I; Women, Employment of.

Carrie Chapman Catt

views updated May 23 2018

Carrie Chapman Catt

The American reformer Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) designed the strategy for the final victory of the woman's-suffrage movement in 1920 and founded the League of Women Voters.

Carrie Lane was born in Ripon, Wis., on Jan. 9, 1859. She was raised in lowa and graduated from the state college. Her first husband died soon after their marriage, and 4 years later, in 1890, she married George Catt, a prosperous engineer. In 1895 she became chairman of the Organization Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and in 1900 she succeeded Susan B. Anthony as president of NAWSA. Her husband's ill health forced Catt to resign in 1904, but after his death the next year she returned to active service as president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. Later she assumed command of the New York woman's-suffrage movement, then struggling to win a statewide referendum authorizing the vote for women. Although the New York campaign was not completed until 1917, Catt's brilliant management of it made her the obvious choice to become president of NAWSA in 1915, when discontent with Dr. Anna Howard Shaw's faltering leadership forced her to step down.

Catt reorganized NAWSA, installed her own people in key positions, and in 1916 worked out a 6-year plan to secure a constitutional amendment that would enfranchise women. America's entry into World War I forced the issue. No doubt women would have gained the ballot some day, but they got it in 1920 mainly because of Catt. Under her direction the amendment was lobbied torturously through Congress and then, in the face of substantial opposition, through the state legislatures. The issue was in doubt until Tennessee, at the last minute, became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26, 1920.

Catt was notable for her intelligence, strength of character, and self-discipline. An effective speaker, a superb organizer, a diplomat and a politician, she converted NAWSA from a loose coalition of societies into a tightly knit political machine. She had pacifist inclinations and helped launch the Woman's Peace party, but she broke with it when American entry into World War I was imminent. By the same token, although she served on the Woman's Committee of the Council of National Defense during that war, she did only enough work to establish her credentials as a patriotic American. In both cases her first loyalty and best energies went to the suffrage movement.

In 1919 Catt founded the League of Women Voters as a vehicle for nonpartisan suffragists and as an instrument to advance those reforms for which women had sought the ballot. Later she fulfilled her early pacifist ambitions by establishing a Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, which was the largest of the women's peace groups during the 1920s. A lifelong internationalist, she supported both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Unlike many feminists, Catt was not discouraged by the modest gains women made after receiving the vote. She never thought that enfranchising women would revolutionize the human condition, and as long as her strength held out she continued to work for social justice and social welfare in a variety of fields. She died on March 9, 1947.

Further Reading

The only biography of Catt is Mary G. Peck, Carrie Chapman Catt (1944). The fact that the author was a friend and colleague of Catt for 40 years gives the book a special authority, but a full study of this important woman based on the extensive documentary material now available is needed. Carrie C. Catt and Nettie R. Shuler, Woman Suffrage and Politics (1923), is informative since it draws on some of Mrs. Catt's own experiences. Volumes 4 (1903), 5 (1922), and 6 (1922) of the History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Ida H. Harper, contain much useful material. □

Carry Amelia Moore Nation

views updated May 21 2018

Carry Amelia Moore Nation

The actions of Carry Amelia Moore Nation (1846-1911), American temperance reformer and moral agitator, helped bring on the prohibition era.

Carry Amelia Moore was born in Garrard County, Ky., on Nov. 25, 1846, into a well-to-do slave-holding household. She was raised in an intensely religious atmosphere. On her mother's side there was evidence of eccentricity and insanity, and Carry's youth mixed emotionalism with stern suppression. The Moores moved a number of times, and during the Civil War her father lost his fortune. In 1865 the family settled in Belton, Mo. Carry earned a teaching certificate at the state normal school.

In 1867 Carry married Dr. Charles Gloyd. He soon proved an irresponsible alcoholic, and though she loved him and was pregnant, she returned home. He died shortly after. Her child, born weak of mind, was an expense and trouble for years. After teaching school for a few years, Carry married David Nation, a lawyer, minister, and journalist, in 1877.

The Nations moved to Medicine Lodge, Kans. In 1889 a great fire stopped short of Nation's hotel, convincing her that she was divinely shielded. Her religious fervor increasingly took the form of hallucinations and public displays. She found an outlet in the work of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) throughout the 1890s. This group became very active because the Kansas law prohibiting the sale of liquor was not being enforced.

In 1899 and into 1900 Nation and other WCTU women developed a campaign of prayer and religious song outside local saloons. A tall, powerful, determined woman, Nation was first treated roughly and with contempt. She then began an offensive which made her internationally famous. She and her friends returned to the "joints" and in violent confrontations and challenges to the law, which she held remiss for not enforcing prohibition, they succeeded in closing the saloons.

The tumult Nation had stirred up inspired her to broaden her campaign. In Wichita and Topeka, Kans., and other cities, wearing her famous black dress and bonnet and carrying a Bible and an iron rod, she roused citizens and officials. On Jan. 21, 1901, at Wichita, she first used the hatchet that became her trademark.

Strongly convinced of divine guidance—she thought her name (Carry A. Nation) had been predestined—Nation extended her activities, though on occasion she stood trial and served time in jail. The WCTU was not in wholehearted support of her. Her husband divorced her on grounds of desertion. Her lectures and publications (The Smasher's Mail, The Hatchet) earned money that she spent freely on such reforms as a home for wives of alcoholics in Kansas City, Kans.

A trip to New York City was picturesque but ineffective, and increasingly, during raids in major cities from San Francisco, Calif., to Washington, D.C., Nation became a symbol of aggression rather than of temperance reform. Her distaste for tobacco and contemporary women's clothes accentuated her conservative character. By the time of her death in Leavenworth, Kans., on June 2, 1911, it was clear that she had outlived her time.

Further Reading

Carry Nation's autobiography, The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation (1904), is vivid and informative. Her major biographers have been remarkably judicious and understanding, though philosophically opposed to her on most counts. See Herbert Asbury, Carry Nation (1929); Carleton Beals, Cyclone Carry: The Story of Carry Nation (1962); and Robert Lewis Taylor, Vessel of Wrath: The Life and Times of Carry Nation (1966).

Additional Sources

Madison, Arnold., Carry Nation, Nashville: T. Nelson, 1977. □

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Carrie Chapman Catt

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