January 9 - Happy Birthday, Carrie Chapman Catt

Posted on January 9, 2019

Today's famous birthday led "an army of voteless women" to Washington, D.C., to pressure members of Congress to pass an amendment that would give women the vote.

Like all voting rights, it's not so easy for people who can't vote to win the right to vote. Obviously, allowing all citizens to vote - citizens of every gender and race and ethnicity and creed - is that right thing to do...but the main power that people have in a democracy is the power of the ballot. "Pass legislation to clean up the air, or we will vote you out" works fairly well for voters, but "Pass legislation to give us the vote, or we will...." 

Or we will what?

Of course, the answer is that people without a vote can and do agitate, protest, march, lobby, spread the word on media, and so forth - and hopefully the fact that "it's the right thing to do" actually works on the voting public well enough that people who *can* vote threaten lawmakers who don't get with the program. 

Carrie Chapman Catt was one of the most famous American women's suffrage activists of her time. Born on this date in 1859, she had to wait and work until she was in her sixties to be able to vote - but she lived to the ripe old age of 88, so she was able to vote for years and years!

Here's some of Catt's accomplishments:

Interested in science, and wanting to be a doctor, Catt had to work hard to get her father to allow her to go to college - and then she had to work hard as a dishwasher, in the school library, and teaching during summer breaks in order to pay for her college tuition. But she graduated as valedictorian with a Bachelor of Science degree (she was the only woman in her graduating class!).

Catt defied the rules of her college's literary society, which only allowed men to speak in meetings; her defiance of the men-only rule caused a debate about the rule and eventually a rule change - and everyone was allowed to speak.

She was the first female superintendent of schools in Mason, Iowa.

She was the first female reporter in San Francisco, California.

She was president of the National American Women Suffrage Association.

She helped found the League of Women Voters.

She helped found the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

After achieving the right to vote in the U.S., Catt became an anti-war activist during the World War I years. But she eventually dropped her peace work in order to continue working for women's suffrage worldwide. (Remember, women in Saudi Arabia have only been allowed to vote since 2015, and women still cannot vote in Vatican City. Actually, not all men can vote in Vatican City, either - only cardinals in the Catholic Church can - but on lists, Vatican City remains the only "nation" that does not have women's suffrage.)

Catt was the first woman to receive the American Hebrew Medal. (She wasn't Jewish, but she organized protests of Hitler's persecution of Jews and agitated for the U.S. government to ease immigration laws so that Jews could take refuge from Hitler in the United States.)

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