Carrie Chapman Catt

What Have Women Done With Suffrage - undated

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1922
Print friendly

I am asked continually whether I am satisfied with woman suffrage now that it is achieved? Yes, I am because I see what I expected to see.

I had learned before 1920 that there is no short cut to the millennium. I knew that women would be disappointed with politics. And they are. I have heard of no woman who is disappointed enough to want to go back with the paupers, insane and criminals who compose the disfranchised classes. They are disappointed nevertheless, frankly, outspokenly disappointed.

They are disappointed first of all because they miss the exaltation, the [?], the vision which stimulated them in the suffrage campaign. They find none of these appeals to their aspiration in the parties of their choice. They expected to speed up the evolution of progress when they would be able to support their ideals with their votes. They discover that in each of the prominent parties there is a right and a left - a strong stand pat, right or wrong, groups, known as the old guard which largely controls the administration of the party composes the right. A smaller much divided group calling itself progressive, makes up the left and these two balance each other so neatly that the outstanding result is a timid conservatism. When two timid, stand pat parties counter each other the outcome is a stand-pat nation.

Women have been born to their parties as have men. They are divided between them as are men but they whisper their confession of disappointment across the "dead man's line" between.

The second cause of disappointment has arisen from the frequent lectures women get on the subject of party loyalty. They never needed lectures on loyalty in the suffrage campaign. They are not used to it, but political leaders have been afflicted with a wild hysteria of political independence. "Government function through parties" they declare and say it over and over until women repeat it in their lectures to other women. There has been more talk about party loyalty since 1920 than in the fifty preceding years. The thing that startled and bewildered the women was that any party leader was thrown into conniptions when any woman threatened to bolt a candidate. Conniptions may be a word not in the dictionary but it is what the politicians had. At last women and men have understood each other on this subject and women are sobered but not reconciled. One well known leader, in the thick of the party politics for the last 30 years offers an example. He was disclaiming on party loyalty to some women who were protesting against a nomination. He grew more and more excited and eloquent as he went on, and clearly party-loyalty was, in his estimation omitted from the ten commandments by some unfortunate mistake. But, exclaims a woman, how can a woman vote for a man she wholly disapproves. Ah! He exclaims, that is different. We all vote against candidates we don't approve. We frequently defeat a candidate on our own ticket, that isn't party disloyalty but telling of it is. Always defend a candidate of the party publicly but vote against him if you don't want him. Having established the fact that the ethics of men voters permit them to campaign for a candidate but gives them liberty to scratch him in the polling booth and the ethics of women compels them to announce their repudiation of the candidate from the house tops, a new status quo has been reached and there the matter of party-loyalty stands at this date.

The third cause of disappointment is that women have not been taken into the party councils on equal terms. Some women think they have, but other women know they have not technical equality of position has here and there been achieved and much heralded through the press. In fact when there is a political problem the old leaders hold a caucus somewhere and thus manage to have their way despite the women.

A fourth disappointment is the unwillingness to give women even a small share of the political positions which would enable them to score advantage to their ideals. Some women are mystified by this fact but not an old time suffragist. Men are reconciled on the whole to women voters, but not to women in politics. When a party nominates a woman for an important post it is clear she gets the cut of many a male voter who may be busy preaching party-loyalty. Occasionally women find a way out. When the women of the country wanted Grace Abbott as successor to Julia Lathrop as chief of the children's bureau, they were frustrated by the Illinois senator who regarded this proposal as patronage, but after a considerable lapse of time a woman bethought herself that Miss Abbott was born in Nebraska even though she had long been a citizen of Illinois. The Nebraska delegation enjoyed the joke and Miss Abbott is in the place the women wanted her.

Yet back of women's disappointment is an encouraging amount of determination remove the causes of their disappointment. O, says many a good woman "if I could only get a good old time suffrage thrill in politics it would be so different". Women want a party of parties they can cheerfully live for and resignedly die for and they have not found them. But who knows if their prayers may not be answered some surprising day. When and if they are many a man will rejoice for while they are saying something about it, as the women are, they, in truth, are just as depressed by a stand pat nation as are any of the women. Women have been unfortunately caught in one of the ever recurring slumps in idealism. Men and women of vision know there is a better time coming.