Carrie Chapman Catt to Eleanor Roosevelt

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Carrie Chapman Catt to Eleanor Roosevelt

7 May 1946 [New Rochelle, NY]

My dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

A long time ago I had a birthday, and there was brought to me a box of beautiful flowers with your card in it. You, however had gone to England, and I concluded a letter sent you there, even though I should catch you, would only be a boresome additional item in your overfull program. So I waited until you came home. When you did I prepared to thank you for those flowers, but how you did buzz around, going here, there, and everywhere with such important things to do, and making speeches everywhere! I thought some day you would find a calm moment when you might pause and remember that you never had had a thank you for those flowers! Now there is something else to say, so I will combine the two duties.

I was greatly honored by the arrival of those flowers, and very much surprised that you should remember old lady Catt in the midst of your busy busy program. I have thought of them every day since, and always with renewed gratitude for all you have done for me.

I am so very glad that you are among the leaders of the new Anti-War Organization.8 Women should know what war means, and I believe that if the men all fall down you will be able to lead on, nevertheless. I am a firm believer that the League of Nations did a great deal of good in its brief life and created a large number of anti-war citizens of the world, but we had to have another war it seems, and I am not so sure that we will not get a third, and perhaps still others too, but the movement is on the forward trend, and sometime war will end.

We are all very glad that you are chairman of the Commission on Human Rights. I am informed that a partly organized committee on the Status of Women is under the general Committee of Human Rights. There has been quite a disturbance among women over this committee. Originally there was such a Committee in the League of Nations, and they were going along with considerable vigor.9 They had a good many meetings, and were going to accomplish something, but that came to an end, and the new "set-up" apparently did not wish to use the machinery formerly operating under the League of Nations. It seems that an appeal was made at San Francisco to adopt the same form of committee in order that the work might be continued, and it was to be formed of men and women. There came to that Conference two women who did not know each other—Bertha Lutz of Brazil10 who was a regular delegate and Mrs. Street of Australia,11 who had ideals. They put their heads together and proposed a committee on the status of women, to be comprised of women only. There was quite a row inside of the San Francisco Conference over the latter.12

I am informed that there is no English speaking woman on this minor committee,13 and some of the women here who appealed to the San Francisco Conference to readopt the League of Nations Committee have never lost sight of the proposal, and are now very anxious that there should be an American woman appointed to that Committee who would be familiar with the evolution of the rights of women in the English speaking countries, and they all want Dorothy Kenyon, who is a lawyer, and who has now I think in her hands a complete report of the work of the old committee so far as it had gone.14 I have talked with Miss Kenyon, and I have reason to believe that she would be very pleased to find herself on that committee and go forward with it.15 I am also informed that there might be an objection to two American women, each with a vote, but the women suggested that the two women might only have one vote between them. I do not know about this, but at any rate I suggest that if possible you get Dorothy Kenyon on that Committee.16 She is a fine woman as you know, and is amply prepared to serve there, whereas all the women seem to have their doubts about the qualifications of women from India, Lebanon, San Domingo, France, and Russia as suitable to make a platform of the status of women that would be satisfactory to the English speaking people. They did not have the long campaign for woman's rights that preceded the movement for Woman Suffrage. I should say from what I hear that the whole situation is quite a mess, but I may be wrong. If there is any way in which Dorothy Kenyon may be put to work at it, I think she might make order out of tangle.17

Please pardon this long letter.

                                             Lovingly yours,

                                             Carrie Chapman Catt


1. "Betty Gram Swing Dead at 76; Women's Rights Leader in 20's," NYT, 4 September 1969, 47; WH, 172-73; see also n11 and n12 Document 83.

2. MD, 25 January 1946.

3. For example, see Document 120 and Document 138.

4. For discussion of ER's public and private disagreements regarding the status the women's body would ultimately have within the UN, see Document 120.

5. NYT, 10 March 1947, 21; NAWMP; A. Black, Casting, 137-88; Cook, vol. 2, 128, 238, 364, 488.

6. Dorothy Kenyon (1888–1972), lawyer, judge, and women's rights activist, served as the US representative to the League of Nations' Committee to Study the Legal Status of Women Throughout the World (NAW).

7. See n15. If ER responded to this letter, neither ER, Catt, nor the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War retained a copy.

8. She means the United Nations. Catt herself had become honorary chair of a new women's peace initiative, the Women's Action Committee for Victory and a Lasting Peace, which formed in March 1943, as the successor organization to the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War ("New Anti-War Unit is Launched Here," NYT, 18 March 1943, 6; "Cure-of-War Group Dissolved at Meeting," NYT, 9 April 1943, 16).

9. For the League of Nations Committee of Experts on the Status of Women, see n14 Document. 79.

10. A Chapman Catt protégé, Bertha Lutz of Brazil (1894–1976) was a botanist, naturalist, long-term activist for women's rights, and a member of her country's Chamber of Deputies in 1936 and 1937. A leader in the fight for women suffrage in Brazil, she became a Brazilian delegate to the UN's charter conference in San Francisco and later served on the UN Commission on the Status of Women (Hahner, "Lutz," 474-75; "Brazilian Woman Hailed," NYT, 28 June 1946, 12; Rupp, Worlds, 222; Yearbook of the United Nations, 1946–47).

11. Jessie Street (1889–1970), an Australian Labour (and later Independent Labour) politician, served as the only female member of the Australian delegation to the San Francisco founding conference of the UN. She visited both Chapman Catt and ER in New York after the San Francisco meeting. Once appointed to the UN, the Commission on the Status of Women members elected her their first vice president. The Labour government under Ben Chifley did not appoint her for another term. Street had also actively lobbied the League of Nations on women's issues and attended meetings of the League's assembly in 1930 and 1938 (, accessed, 4 August 2005; Street, Truth or Repose?, 266, 294-96; Radi, ed., Jessie, 2-4).

12. Apart from the question of making such a body "women only," not all organized women's rights advocates wanted women's issues to be discussed separately from general human rights issues at the United Nations. See Rupp, Worlds, 223-24.

13. She means full members of the subcommission. As an ex-officio member, ER did not vote ("Women's Equality Asked by U.N. Unit," NYT, 2 May 1946, 6).

14. On May 1, 1946, at a meeting of the UN Subcommission on the Status of Women in which ER also participated, Kenyon reported on the accomplishments of that committee. The subcommission's subsequent report to ECOSOC included a recommendation for a new survey of laws related to women's status.

Kenyon also wrote to ER about the controversy surrounding the Subcommission on the Status of Women, reporting on her conversation with Gabriela Mistral, a leading woman activist from Chile, who resigned from the subcommission on May 3 partly because it had no North American member, and to express her dismay that the subcommission neglected the needs of nonpolitical women (Radi, ed., Jessie Street, 188; "Women's Equality Asked by U.N. Unit," NYT, 2 May 1946, 6; Lucy Greenbaum, "World Goal Fixed in Women's Rights," NYT, 14 May 1946, 10; Dorothy Kenyon to ER, 3 May 1946, AERP).

15. Kenyon already belonged to a group, the American Association for the United Nations, that was lobbying ER in her capacity as chair of the Human Rights Commission to create further sub-commissions on rights and install mechanisms for implementing antidiscrimination principles (American Association for the United Nations, Inc. to ER, 2 May 1946, NAACP papers, II, DLC).

16. The State Department also recommended that Truman consider Dorothy Kenyon, along with Frieda Miller and Frances Perkins, for appointment to the full commission. On November 6, 1946, the president appointed Kenyon as the first US representative to the Commission on the Status of Women; she served for a term of three years ("Truman Appoints U.N. Representatives," NYT, 7 November 1946, 14; "Comments and Recommendations on Report of Sub-Commission on Status of Women," 22 May 1946, SD/E/HR/ST/1, RG84, NARA II).

17. Kenyon used her new position to promote greater representation of women in UN agencies and improvements in women's political status and rights across the globe. She also repeatedly crossed swords with the commission's Soviet member at meetings over a broad range of issues encompassing political access, civil liberties, and economic opportunity. After Kenyon's three-year term ended, Truman selected Olive Remington Goldman to replace her ("Judge Dorothy Kenyon Is Dead," NYT, 14 February 1972, 32; "Special Rights Aim Again Loses in U.N.," NYT, 20 February 1947, 11; Albion Ross, "U.S., Soviet Women Clash on Rights of Wives of Foreigners Under Russian Restrictions," NYT, 26 March 1949, 5; MD, 11 March 1950).

On Intermarriage

In her My Day column of March 7, 1946, ER published excerpts from a letter she received from an American man married to a Chinese woman. The husband acknowledged that when they wed, "they were entirely conscious" of the "general social reaction in the United States, most particularly in the west, against mixed marriage." Indeed, they married in Washington to avoid the California statute against miscegenation. However, the couple returned to Berkeley (where both had completed their doctoral work) so that he, a physicist, could work for the Donner Laboratory of Medical Physics. When the physicist rented an apartment, he did not tell the manager his wife was Chinese. A month later the manager confronted the wife, insulted her nationality, and told her that had he known, they would "not have been accepted as tenants." He then closed his letter to ER:

I am writing for my Oriental friends, whom I know through my marriage and through residence at the Berkeley International House where I met my wife, for my Negro friends, for my Filipino and Mexican friends, and for the host of all these races whom I can only know as they are symbolized in my friends.

ER, who began her column by telling her readers that this "sad letter" illustrated "one of the the big problems" confronting the American people, closed it by saying this discrimination illustrated:

that we deny the spirit of the religions to which we belong, for all religions recognize the equality of the human being before God. We deny the spirit of our own Constitution and Government which our forefathers fought to establish in this land, we make future good will and peace an impossibility for no United Nations organization can succeed when peoples of one race approach those of other races in a spirit of contempt.1

Although the column did not explicitly endorse intermarriage, ER often received harsh criticism for implying her approval of such relationships, as exemplified in this letter from one of her readers.

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Carrie Chapman Catt to Eleanor Roosevelt

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