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 on Carrie Chapman Catt
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.