“To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.”
Carrie Chapman Catt spoke these words in 1921 during a commencement speech she gave at her alma mater, Iowa State University. Her speech made history, as she was one of the first women in America to give a commencement speech. This isn’t surprising, Catt was first in many things. She went to university at age 16, was the only female in her class, and graduated in 1880 as valedictorian. Soon after graduation, she became one of the first female school superintendents. She devoted her life to progress. Catt was a feminist politician, international peace advocate, and a leader of the women’s suffrage movement.
Catt’s lifetime of political activism began in 1887, when she joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. She utilized her superb writing and speaking capabilities as a professional lecturer. She realized her passion was in advocating for women’s rights. Soon, she became a delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and in 1900 she was elected to succeed Susan B. Anthony as the president. In the following fifteen years, Catt took the fight for women’s suffrage to the world by forming the International Woman Suffrage Association. She went on a world tour to Norway, Sweden, Egypt, South Africa, India, China, and many other places to empower women of other cultures and help their voices to be heard.
After Catt returned home in 1915, she proposed her “Winning Strategy”. She realized that the only way to win the vote for women was to campaign at both the state and federal levels. By 1918, more than ten states, including New York, had granted women the right to vote and President Woodrow Wilson had been converted to the cause of the 19th Amendment. Six months before the new Amendment was passed, Catt formed the League of Women Voters, which is still educating women to be politically involved today. Catt and others continued to fight for the vote until August 18, 1920. The 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was added, giving women the right to vote in all states and ending the 72 year-long battle for suffrage.
After suffrage for women was achieved, Catt continued to fight for progress. Until her death in 1947, she focused her efforts on international peace. In response to World War I, she formed the Women’s Peace Party, a 40,000 strong pacifist group that organized war relief efforts. Today, this group continues as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and is the longest running peace organization. Catt also worked on relief efforts for Jewish refugees between the World Wars, and fought to end child labour.
I basically want to be this woman. As she said in her 1921 speech, Carrie Chapman Catt gave herself to progress. She devoted 60 years of her life activism, over half of that was spent fighting for women’s suffrage. All that she fought for, and all that she accomplished, is such an inspiration to me and people all over the world.