Carrie Chapman Catt
Founder of The League of Women Voters
Born 1859 - Died 1947

Women's suffrage leader and two time president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), first in 1900 to 1904 and then later in the final years of the struggle from 1915 to 1920.

Born in Ripon, Wisconsin, spent most of her early years in Iowa. Became a teacher and later superintendent of schools in Mason City in 1883. No small feat for that day.

In 1885, she married a newspaper editor by the name of Leo Chapman, but he died shortly thereafter in California. Carrie was far from her midwestern roots with little or no resources to mention. she spent some time in the male working world and had the good fortune to marry one George Catt, a wealthy engineer. Their marriage was allowed her to spend a good deal of time on the road campaigning for woman's suffrage. This caused her to move quickly up the ranks in the movement.

While on the rise up the ranks, she became a colleague of Susan B. Anthony. In fact, Anthony selected her to succeed her as the head of NAWSA. Catt led the movement over the twenty years, struggling against great odds, suffering many setbacks but achieving some significant victories. Catt supervised dozen's of campaigns, mobilized volunteers, (about a million) and made hundreds of speeches.

Catt, along with here contemporaries such as Anthony and Jane Addams believed that it was a woman's natural right to participate in politics on an equal basis with men. Her argument was that if women could vote, they would become a force for world peace and would help improve the conditions of life for themselves and their children. She was most concerned with a woman's dignity and felt that participation in the political process would give them a voice in decisions and serve to enhance that dignity.

The two main overriding goals that Catt pursued throughout her her life were world peace and that the political process be rational, issue oriented, dominated by citizens and not politicians. It was the latter goal that led her to form the League of Woman Voters in 1920.

A large controversy involving Carrie Chapman Catt unfolded on the campus of Iowa State University during the mid-1990s.

One of the oldest buildings on the campus, Old Botany Hall, was renamed after Carrie Chapman Catt during the summer of 1995. On September 29, 1995, the university had a large ceremony announcing the renaming to the public at large and beginning construction on a new face for the building, to consist of a large collection of bricks forming a walkway in front of the building, along with some polished stone benches. Each of the bricks forming the walkway would bear upon it the name of a professional woman, in honor of Catt's contributions to the women's suffrage movement in the United States.

This renaming didn't go without notice among a number of people on campus, however, who began to do research into the writings and speeches of Miss Catt. It turns out that, in trying to help acquire suffrage for women, Miss Catt on occasion made references to and comments which characterized minorities as being inferior to Caucasians. These comments were in the context of encouraging suffrage for women, as she was attempting to use logic based on the racist atmosphere prevalent in the United States at the time.

A group of students formed, calling themselves the September 29th Movement, and began to protest this name change throughout the rest of 1995, 1996, and 1997. At first, the group received a fair amount of attention from both the students at large and from the administration, and they may have in fact been successful in getting Carrie Chapman Catt Hall renamed if they had continued on this path. The group at first largely protested by distributing informational flyers, writing letters to the student newspaper, and discussing the matter with local media sources. However, their protests became more radical, as they interrupted daily activities of students through their protests. When the leader of the group proceeded to go on a hunger strike on the steps of the administrative building on campus in early 1998, no one really seemed to care too much, even when he collapsed after days without food. After that, the movement passed into the annals of history.

The building to this day remains Carrie Chapman Catt Hall, and it has a very pleasant pattern of bricks in front of the hall, each engraved with the name of a professional woman. Catt is being remembered here for her positive contributions to the cause of women's suffrage, not for the controversy of her writings, both in the context of her time and in the context of modern times.

Even long after her death, the name of Carrie Chapman Catt still stirs up controversy.

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