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Little Known Characters in America

Little Known Characters in America: Carrie Chapman Catt

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Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt (January 9, 1859-March 9, 1947) was an American women’s suffrage leader who campaigned for the right of women to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed and this gave women in the United States the right to vote in 1920.

Catt was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, and with her family moved to Charles City, Iowa when she was only seven years old.

Catt graduated from high school in 1877 and then enrolled at Iowa Agricultural College which is now Iowa State University.

Catt was the only female to graduate with her class at Iowa State University in 1880. She first worked as a law clerk, then became a teacher and then superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa, in 1885. She was the first female superintendent of the district.

In February 1885, Catt married newspaper editor Leo Chapman. While traveling to California to find a job, Chapman contacted typhoid fever and died in route in August 1886.

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As a young widow of only 28 years old, she wrote “The American Sovereign” in 1888. In 1890, she married George Catt, a wealthy engineer. Carrie had started to lecture about the “rights of women” to vote. In addition to her lectures, she also wrote “Subject and Sovereign” and “Danger to Our Government” in 1894. Her husband George encouraged her involvement in women’s suffrage. Their marriage allowed her to spend a good part of each year on the road campaigning for suffrage, a cause she had become involved with during the late 1880s.

In order for the 19th Amendment to become law, it required the approval of 36 state legislatures. (At the time, there were only 48 states and in order for the amendment to pass three-fourths of the states needed to vote for the approval of the amendment.) Catt received the approval of the 36 state legislatures.

It was on May 21, 1919, that the House of Representatives passed the amendment to allow women the right to vote. The amendment then moved to the Senate, where it passed the needed two-thirds majority. The 19th Amendment now became law and women could vote.

After completing her last campaign, she returned to New York City for a welcome reception. Catt said: “Now that we have the vote, let us remember we are no longer petitioners. We are not wards of the nation, but free and equal citizens. Let us do our part to keep it a true and triumphant democracy.”

Catt had other deep-seated beliefs. One was that she opposed America’s involvement in World War I. Another of Catt’s beliefs was her views on race and immigration. She had anti-immigrant sentiments which were popular at this time in our history. However, she did believe that all minorities, including Blacks should have the right to vote.

Today, The League of Women Voters often honors Catt as its founder. In 1929, the League placed bronze tablets honoring her contributions to suffrage throughout the country.

On March 9, 1947, Catt died of a heart attack in her home in New Rochelle, New York.


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