Among the thousands of Iowa women and men who advocated for suffrage in the decades leading up to and following passage of the 19th Amendment, Carrie Chapman Catt is perhaps the best known. Born Carrie Clinton Lane in Ripon, Wisconsin, Catt grew up in Charles City, Iowa, where her girlhood home is today a museum and historical landmark. She was founder of the national League of Women Voters (LWV) and the International Alliance of Women, and served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), succeeding Susan B. Anthony. At the peak of her influence, Catt was one of the best-known women in the country.
A pragmatist, Catt created the “Winning Plan” in 1916 to gain support for a suffrage amendment by senators and representatives on both state and federal levels. It was under her leadership that NAWSA won the support not only of the U.S. House and Senate, but also individual states’ support of the amendment. Passed by Congress in June of 1919, the amendment was ratified upon the legislative vote of the 36th state, Tennessee, on Aug. 18, 1920, and signed by President Woodrow Wilson when the paperwork was presented to him on Aug. 26, 1920. The final state to eventually ratify the amendment was Mississippi in 1984.
Carrie Chapman Catt’s many honors include:
One of the first inductees into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame, in 1975
Induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, in 1982
Named one of the 10 most important women of the century, by Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation, in 1992
The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, established in her honor at Iowa State University (ISU), in 1992
Carrie Chapman Catt Hall, renovated and named in her honor at ISU, in 1995
One of the first four women to be recognized on the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, Des Moines, in 2013
Tim Lane was born 10 months after the death of his famous great-great aunt, Carrie Lane Chapman Catt. Yet she profoundly affected his life, and he even named his daughter Carrie. “In 1872 at the age of 13, she found out her mom wasn’t going out to vote in the presidential election like her father and his hired help,” Lane said. “It was a moment like Babe Ruth pointing out to centerfield. She called her shot and from then on spent 50 percent of her time fighting for suffrage.” Lane, who obtained a degree in history and serves as co-chair of the Iowa World War I Centennial Committee, believes that no event impacted more Americans’ civil rights more than the 19th Amendment.
In 1938 at age 5, Ivadelle Stevenson donned a dress and stockings sent to her from her great-great aunt Carrie and stood beside a plaque placed by the Charles City Federated Women’s Club. The fall occasion dedicated the Girlhood Home of Carrie Chapman Catt. “I was never able to meet her, but she used to send me books from her personal library,” Stevenson recalls. “My grandfather — Carrie’s nephew — and father were both very proud and talked about her a lot.”
Lane and Stevenson happily share family stories, such as a young Carrie defending girls teased by boys with garter snakes. “At age 6, she once smacked a boy at recess who had made fun of a friend over a fallen hoop skirt,” Lane noted. Importantly, both agree that more should be done to educate future generations about Carrie Chapman Catt and her fight for equality.