Carrie Chapman Catt: Suffrage Pioneer

This March, for Women’s History Month, the Ms. Blog is profiling Wonder Women who have made history—and those who are making history right now. Join us each day as we bring you the stories of iconic and soon-to-be-famous feminist change-makers.

Pioneering suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt was instrumental in the fight to ensure women’s suffrage and empower new women voters. Born in Wisconsin in 1859, Catt spent her entire life advocating for equal rights. Not only did she help pass the 19th Amendment that secured women the right to vote, but she also founded the League of Women Voters, one of our country’s oldest and strongest nonpartisan civic organizations. Because of Catt, the League of Women Voters has been at the forefront of efforts to empower citizens to play an active role in our democracy for 95 years and counting.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are 10 inspiring facts about Carrie Chapman Catt’s life and legacy.

1. Originally interested in practicing medicine, Catt received a Bachelor of Science degree in general science in 1880. She was the only woman in her class.

2. Before working in the suffrage movement, Catt served as a teacher, principal and superintendent in Iowa.

3. Catt began her career as a political activist at the age of 27 when she joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association.

4. When her husband died in 1885, Catt made a living by becoming San Francisco’s first female newspaper reporter.

5. By 1900, Catt succeeded the 80-year-old activist Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the organizational predecessor to the League.

6. Catt’s relentless campaigning is credited with helping win President Woodrow Wilson’s respect and support—which ultimately led to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

7. Catt was close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, a fellow League leader and women’s rights pioneer.

8. Catt advocated for the rights of women across the globe, not just in the U.S. As the president of NAWSA, she founded the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). 

9. In her later years, Catt advocated on behalf of working women and tirelessly lobbied for world peace efforts. She supported efforts for both the League of Nations and the United Nations, the latter of which the League of Women Voters helped establish.

10. For decades throughout the women’s suffrage movement, Catt traveled across the country to make speeches and lead parades. Even when she was in her late 70s, she remained an effective and impassioned speaker.

Catt’s legacy lives on today in the work of the League of Women Voters. With nearly 800 chapters across the country, the League has educated millions of voters over the past century and helped to protect our democracy at the national, state and local levels. Ninety-five years after the League was founded, we continue to hold fast to the belief that our nation is at its strongest when citizens are engaged with our democracy, from voting rights and voter education to campaign finance reform and environmental defense.

“There will never be a true democracy,” said Catt, “until every responsible…adult in it, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own…voice in government.” Cheers to that!

The League of Women Voters is celebrating 95 years of Making Democracy Work at every level of government. In 1920, the League was founded as an outgrowth of the movement that secured women the right to vote to help new voters engage with their government. Today, the League empowers all voters to improve their local, state and national government. Learn more about the League of Women Voters and join our celebration!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user NPGpics licensed under Creative Commons 2.0





Renee Davidson develops and executes AAUW’s online content and social media strategies and helps manage AAUW’s award-winning blog. She was nominated for the Women’s Media Center’s Social Media Award for her successes in leading online advocacy campaigns around gender equity and sexual violence prevention. Her writing has been published by Mic, Salon, Bitch and more. She’s passionate about feminism, owl motifs and veggie cheesesteaks.