Today in Feminist History: Carrie Chapman Catt Announces Promising Progress (December 21, 1917)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.


The long battle to get Congress to approve the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment is nearly over, according to Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Carrie Chapman Catt

She returned to New York today following the recent N.A.W.S.A. convention, and told those who greeted her that a 2/3 vote was assured in the House on January 10th, and that if the Senate quickly follows suit, N.A.W.S.A. can shut down its operations in D.C. by February. Suffragists can then concentrate on getting the 36 State ratifications needed, with the goal of ratification in time for the 1920 Presidential election. Catt said:

“During the convention which has just closed, the delegations of suffragists from thirty States held conferences with representatives of the States in Congress and, as a result, thirty-five votes are known to have been brought over to our side. The two-thirds vote in the House is assured, we think, and immediately afterward we hope to get a vote in the Senate. We hope we can move out of Washington before February first.”

She feels the recent victory in New York State has certainly helped the effort: “We expect a solid vote of the New York representatives…We also expect to get the bulk of the votes from all of the other suffrage States in the North and West, and we are going to have a few even from the solid South.”

Getting any Southern Democrats, especially those in the Senate, to vote for the race-neutral Anthony Amendment is a daunting task, especially since great pressure is being put on them from their fellow segregationists to continue to prevent its passage. A new circular from George R. Lockwood of St. Louis is making the rounds, with the intention of frightening Southern lawmakers about the consequences the Anthony Amendment might have on their rigid system of racial segregation. But since its first introduction in 1878, suffragists have consistently supported the Anthony Amendment’s language which grants the vote to all women without regard to race, and gives Congress, not the individual States, the power to enforce it. It reads:

“Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Anthony Amendment is modeled on the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, which states:

“Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The job of those who believe in that most basic American value of political equality for all will not be done until Congress is both willing and able to use the power given it by Section Two of both Amendments to assure voting rights for every American regardless of sex OR race.

Though N.A.W.S.A. and the National Woman’s Party share a common goal of enfranchising women, Catt made it clear that she did not endorse the militant tactics of Alice Paul, such as picketing the President, and that there is no cooperation between the two groups. Some N.W.P. members who were recently released from jail for picketing along the White House fence will be parading along Fifth Avenue in New York tomorrow morning, advertising a mass meeting to be held in Carnegie Hall on January 4th. They will at that time explain to the public why such militant tactics are necessary, and will be carrying banners tomorrow saying: “Jailed! Why? Released! Why? White House Pickets’ Own Story. Free Mass Meeting. Carnegie Hall, Jan. 4.”

Among the speakers at the Carnegie Hall rally will be Rose Winslow, who undertook a hunger strike with Alice Paul at the D.C. District Jail earlier this year, and was force-fed along with her. Lucy Burns, “ringleader” of the hunger strikers at Occoquan Workhouse, who suffered the same fate, will also speak. It should be quite a meeting, so attend if you can. And in the meantime, keep lobbying your Representatives and Senators to pass the Anthony Amendment early in the new year, so it can go to the State legislatures for ratification, then be approved and enforced long before any State’s 1920 election registration deadline.


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About

David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.