Letter: I have questions on Carrie Chapman Catt’s history


Letter writer Tim Lane challenges Carrie Chapman Catt accusers with various questions concerning her history. 

Tim Lane

In 1920, what we today would call a PAC, the Tennessee Division Southern Woman League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment operating out of the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville ran full page two-sided ads attacking Carrie Chapman Catt. Any legitimate civil rights group would describe the organization as a white supremacist front. The well-financed effort wanted to know why “Mrs. Catt” wrote for the crisis and why she stated: “That all American men or women, white or black, shall share equally in the privileges of democracy.”

Part of the banner headline was “Why is the Suffrage Leader Silent?”

The answer to the above question is because Carrie Chapman Catt wanted the discussion to be about gender, period. So, a century ago white supremacists attacked Catt for her efforts to enfranchise African American women. And today others attack Carrie Chapman Catt for being one. Today, let me offer 10 questions … not to those whose minds were made up prior to doing research, but to those willing to evaluate and apply academic principles and rational logic to the case. 

  1. Why were white supremacists so opposed to Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920?
  2. Why, even before passage of the 19th Amendment, did Carrie Chapman Catt create the League of Women Voters, an organization: “To remove the remaining legal discriminations against women in the codes and constitutions of the several states in order that the feet of coming women may find these stumbling blocks removed”? 
  3. For years individuals claim Catt gave speeches in two Southern states in 1919 and lately “across the south” supporting white supremacy. But they never cite the source of such claims. Why?*
  4. Why did Carrie Chapman Catt work tirelessly in 1893 to enfranchise all women of Colorado? In fact, she was given the lion’s share of credit for that first state electoral victory and under her presidency refused any help to any state working just for “white women franchise.”
  5. Why did even before the U.S. amendment was Catt campaigning for women’s suffrage in Africa, China, India, the Philippines, Japan and Hawaii?
  6. Why was this supposed “overt racist” the only one to stand up for the “colored troops” being slandered after World War I and thus earning the lasting admiration of Mary Church Terrell (first president of the National Association of Colored Women)?
  7. Why did The Crisis, the official newspaper of the NAACP, seek her out to contribute editorials?
  8. Why did she celebrate educational opportunities for native African girls?
  9. Why did she give speeches railing against the Chinese slave trade even before the 1900s?
  10. Why was she one of the first in America to raise the alarm regarding the evils of Nazi Germany and lobby for more liberal immigration standards?

Please note the specificity. Perhaps those that state Carrie Chapman Catt was a racist could point out the actual act or law or effort she was the architect of.

Also, if there are folks in the Iowa State community that wish to paint the world’s largest B-L-M letters in the Jack Trice parking lot … I will help.

If there are folks that wish to push for the greatest voter registration effort ever in Story County and congressional district … I will help.

If there are folks that wish to join me in creating a memorial to the Iowa-based All Nations team of 1904, I will welcome you with open arms. (At a safe distance.) But I will also be dogged in my efforts to promote an evaluation of all facts.

Oh, and one last question: Can anyone name another American that had a more distinguished and productive track record when it came to enfranchising women of color?

*And yes if there are records that exist that claim she did give such speeches, I will ask them to prove or remove.

Tim Lane is the great-great-nephew of Carrie Chapman Catt.