More than half a century after Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (later the National American Woman Suffrage Association [NAWSA]), American women still did not have the right to vote. But Carrie Chapman Catt, one of the suffrage movement’s most effective lobbyists and organizers, had a “Winning Plan” that would help change all that.
Gathering much of her support from middle-class women—as well as President Woodrow Wilson—Catt revitalized NAWSA and brought a fresh spirit to the suffrage movement. As president of NAWSA, she developed a strategy of campaigning at the state and national levels, organizing in every congressional district, and lobbying in the nation’s capital. Her efforts played a leading role in the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution that gave women the right to vote in 1920. Following this victory, Catt helped found the National League of Women Voters (now the League of Women Voters) to give American women guidance in exercising their new rights.
Carrie Clinton Lane was born on Jan. 9, 1859, in Ripon, Wisconsin, and raised in Iowa. She attended Iowa State College. She taught school and became the first woman superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa. In 1885, she married Leo Chapman, the editor and publisher of the Mason City Republican. The following year, he died of typhoid fever in San Francisco. Carrie Chapman remained in San Francisco and became the city’s first female newspaper reporter. She began her suffrage work in 1887 with the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association. In 1890, Chapman married George Catt, a fellow Iowa State alumnus whom she re-met in San Francisco. Catt was a prosperous engineer and strong supporter of woman suffrage. When Carrie Chapman married Catt, she had him sign an agreement that guaranteed her two months away in the spring and two in the fall for her work in the suffrage movement—a prenuptial agreement, in essence. Around this time she began working for NAWSA, speaking in 1890 at its Washington, D.C., convention.
In 1900, the 80-year-old Susan B. Anthony selected Carrie Chapman Catt to succeed her as president of NAWSA. After her husband’s death in 1905, Catt devoted her energies to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (now the International Alliance of Women), serving as its president until 1923. In 1915, a foundering NAWSA sought Catt’s help after some of its members, led by Alice Paul, had left the organization to form the more militant Women’s Party. Catt assumed presidency of NAWSA a second time and quickly got the organization back on its feet, focusing solely on the issue of woman’s suffrage and the passage of a federal amendment. Catt concluded her second term as NAWSA president in 1920, after the passage of the 19th Amendment.
In 1925, Catt founded the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War. She also supported the League of Nations and, later, the United Nations. In 1933, Catt organized the Protest Committee of Non-Jewish Women Against the Persecution of Jews in Germany. She died in New Rochelle, New York, on March 9, 1947, at the age of 88.