Who Was Carrie Chapman Catt?
Carrie Chapman Catt worked as a teacher to pay her own way through Iowa State College. She worked in the school system and for newspapers before joining suffrage movement in 1887. She took over the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900 and came up with the “Winning Plan” that helped pass the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Early Life and Career
Carrie Chapman Catt was born Carrie Lane on January 9, 1859, near Ripon, Wisconsin. Catt was a key figure in the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. She also founded the League of Women Voters. When her father refused to pay for college, Catt worked as a teacher to raise the money to attend Iowa State College. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1880. The next year, she became a high school principal in Iowa. Moving quickly up the career ladder, she served as the superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa, only two years later.
In 1885, Catt married Leo Chapman, a newspaper editor. She went to work with him on the Mason City Republican. Her husband died the next year, and Catt went to San Francisco to work for another newspaper.
Returning to Iowa in 1887, Catt began a new phase in her life. She became involved in Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. Catt emerged as a leader in the fight to win women the right to vote. In 1900, she began her first term as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), taking over for legendary women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony. She proved to be a worthy successor, increasing the size of the organization’s membership and conducting some substantial fund-raising.
Married to George Catt in 1890, Carrie left her NAWSA post in 1904 because of her husband’s health problems. He died the following year, and she returned to her social activism, becoming involved in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.
Fight for the 19th Amendment
In 1915, the NAWSA was in trouble and turned Catt for help. Some of the members, led by Alice Paul, had left the group, and the organization appeared to be floundering. Catt assumed the presidency and got right to work getting it back on its feet again. She developed what would become known as the “Winning Plan” for its future. Catt told NAWSA members that they had to focus on solely on the issue of suffrage and the passage of a federal amendment. So sure that women would get the right to vote, she helped establish the League of Women Voters to encourage women to use their hard-won right in 1920 before the amendment was passed.
But Catt had indeed come up with a winning plan — the 19th Amendment adopted was 1920. Lobbying tirelessly on behalf the amendment, Catt was a critical factor in this federal victory for women. After this great success, she left the NAWSA and looked to help women around the world to gain the right to vote. Catt was also an active pacifist in the later part of her life.
Catt died in New Rochelle, New York, on March 9, 1947.
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