Carrie Chapman Catt

Woman Suffrage by Federal Amendment, Chapter VI: Objections to the Federal Amendment - Jan. 1917

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1917
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This chapter written by Catt appeared in the book "Woman Suffrage by Federal Amendment" (1917), a collection of essays that focuses on the various arguments for and against woman suffrage by federal constitutional amendment rather than by individual states. In this chapter, Catt uses population statistics to argue for universal suffrage.

I. STATES RIGHTS. This objection is Urged by ALL Opponents of Woman Suffrage, but is Either a Barricade to Defend Themselves from the Necessity of Exposing the Fact That They Have no Reasons, or is a Play to Postpone Woman Suffrage as Long as Possible. By a Few it is Urged Conscientiously and With Conviction.

That there are many problems whose treatment belongs so appropriately to state governments that any infringement of that right by the Federal Government would be an act of tyranny, no American will question. But assuredly woman suffrage is not one of these. One by one classes of men have been granted the vote until women are the only remaining unenfranchised class. States have set up various restrictive qualifications so that criminality, idiocy, insanity, pauperism, drunkenness, foreign birth are accepted as ordinary causes of disfranchisement. Yet not one of these conditions is common to all the states. The foreigner votes on his first papers in eight states and a five years’ residence will usually secure his naturalization and a consequent vote in any state. The criminal, idiot and insane are not denied a vote in several states, and in most a large class of ignorant un-American men with no comprehension of our problems, our history, or ideals, are conspicuous voters on election day. Millions of new voters have entered our country and without the expenditure of time, money or service have received the vote since the pending Federal Amendment was first introduced.

For two generations groups of women have given their lives and their fortunes to secure the vote for their sex and hundreds of thousands of other women are now giving all the time at their command. No class of men in our own or any other country has made one-tenth the effort nor sacrificed one-tenth as much for the vote. The long delay, the double dealing, the broken faith of political parties, the insult of disfranchisement of the qualified in a land which freely gives the vote to the unqualified, combines to produce as insufferable a tyranny as any modern nation has perpetuated upon a class of its citizens. The souls of women which should be warm with patriotic love of their country are growing bitter over the inexplicable wrong their country is doing them. Hands and heads that should be busy with other problems of our nation are withheld that they may get the tools with which to work. Purses that should be open to many causes are emptied into suffrage coffers until this monumental injustice shall be wiped away. Woman suffrage is a question of righting a nation-wide injustice, of establishing a phase of unquestioned human liberty and of carrying out a proposition to which our nation is pledged; it therefore transcends all considerations of states rights. This objection comes chiefly from Southern Democrats, who claim that it is a form of oppression for three-fourths of the states to foist upon one-fourth measures of which the minority of states do not approve. Yet the provision for so amending the Constitution was adopted by the states and has stood unchallenged in the Constitution for more than a century. If it be unfair, undemocratic or even unsatisfactory, it is curious that no movement to change the provision has ever developed. The Constitution has been twice amended recently and it is interesting to note that it happened under a Democratic Administration. More, the child labor and eight-hour bills, while not constitutional amendments, are subject to the same plea that no state shall have laws imposed upon it without its consent. Both measures were introduced by Southern Democrats. The pending Federal Prohibition Amendment was also introduced by a Southern Democrat and is supported by many others. Upon consideration of these facts, it would seem that “states rights” is either a theory to be invoked whenever necessary to conceal an unreasoning hostility to a measure or that those who advance it are guilty of extremely muddy thinking.

The Constitution of the United States as now amended provides that no male citizen subject to state qualifications shall be denied the vote by any state. Were all the state constitutions amended so as to enfranchise women, the word male would still stand in the National Constitution. Men and women would still be unequal, since the National Constitution can impose a penalty upon a state which denies the vote to men, but none upon the state which discriminates against women. A woman comes from Montana to represent that state in Congress. The State of Montana has done its utmost to remove her political disabilities, yet should she cross the border of her state and live in North Dakota, she loses all that Montana gave her. Not so the male voter. Enfranchised in one state, he is enfranchised in all (subject to difference of qualification only). The women of this nation will never be content with less protection in their right to vote than is given to men and there is no other possible way to secure that protection except through amendment to the National Constitution. No single state, nor the forty-eight collectively, can grant that protection except through the Federal Constitution.

As granting to half the population of our country the right of consent to their own government, whose expenses they help to pay, is a question of fundamental human liberty, Congress and the legislatures should be proud to act and to add one more immortal chapter to America’s history of freedom.


It is difficult to believe this objection to be sincere, since facts do not support the contention. The facts are that woman suffrage secured by Federal Amendment will be subject to whatever restrictions may be imposed by state constitutions (provided those restrictions are in accord with the National Constitution) in precisely the same way as woman suffrage secured by state constitutional amendment. No larger number of negro women can be enfranchised by Federal Amendment than will be enfranchised by State Amendment. If the women of the South are ever to be enfranchised, it must be by (1) Federal Constitutional Amendment, or (2) State Constitutional Amendment. If their franchise is obtained by the former method, it will come by the votes of white men in Congress and legislatures; if by the second, they will be forced to appeal to voting Negroes to elevate them to their own political status. One would suppose the first would be the preferable method from the Southern viewpoint. It is possible that behind this commonly spoken objection, lies a hope and belief that Southern women will remain disfranchised forevermore. A man unfamiliar with political history, psychology, and the science of evolution might cherish such a belief in fancied security, but ideas cannot be shut outside the borders of a state. There is no Southern state in which women of the highest families are not giving their all in order to propagate this cause, and they are doing it with so noble a spirit and so eloquent an appeal that final surrender of the citadel of prejudice is only a question of time. No one has ever questioned the “fighting ability” of the South. That ability is not confined to men. Courage, intelligence, conviction and willingness to sacrifice characterize the suffrage movement in every state, and the South is no exception. The women of that section will vote; the question is how long must they work, how much must they sacrifice to win that which has so freely been granted to men of all classes?

White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by woman suffrage. In the fifteen states south of the Mason and Dixon line are:
8,788,901 white women,
4,316,565 negro women, or
4,472,336 more white than negro women.

The total negro population is 8,294,274, and white women outnumber both negro males and females by nearly half a million. In two states only, South Carolina and Mississippi, are there more negro than white women, and in these states there are more negro men than white men. In South Carolina, voters must read, own and pay taxes on $300 worth of property. In Mississippi, voters must read the Constitution. The other four states of the “black belt”—­Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Louisiana—­impose an educational test. Women voters would be compelled to submit to the same qualifications. In the other nine states white women exceed the total negro population. Woman suffrage in the South would so vastly increase the white vote that it would guarantee white supremacy if it otherwise stood in danger of overthrow. If a sly dread of female supremacy is troubling the doubter he may find comfort in the rather astonishing fact that white males over 21 are considerably in excess of white females over 21 in all except Maryland and North Carolina; negro females over 21 exceed negro males in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, but the restrictions in these states of property ownership represented by tax receipts, education and various other tests, would fall more heavily upon women than men, and thus admit fewer women than men to the vote. If the South really wants White Supremacy, it will urge the enfranchisement of women. The following table offers insuperable proof:

Table 1

Speaking of the probable enforcement of the National Constitution against the “Grandfather clause” in Southern constitutions, Walter E. Clark, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, said:

“In North Carolina such a decision would readmit to the polls 125,000 negro votes. What preparation have we made to meet such a possible result? I know of but one remedy. The census shows that the white population of North Carolina is seventy per cent. and the colored population thirty per cent. It follows that the white adult women of North Carolina are more in numbers than the negro men and negro women combined. The votes of 260,000 white women can be relied on to stand solid against any measure or any man who proposes to question Anglo-Saxon supremacy.

“I am not intimating that the admission of the white women to the polls will secure democratic supremacy (they will not impair it), nor that it will prejudice the republican element. The equal suffrage movement has never proceeded on party lines and the women would scorn to be admitted unless they were as free in their choice of party measures and candidates as the men. But what I am saying is that if the negroes are readmitted by a decision of the Federal Court to suffrage, the 260,000 votes of the white women of the State will be one solid obstacle to any measure that would impair either for them or their children the continuance of white supremacy.”


We have two classes of voters in the United States, young men who automatically become voters at twenty-one, and naturalized citizens. No one among them has ever been asked whether he wishes the vote. It was “thrust upon them” all as a privilege which each would use or not as he desired. To extend the suffrage to those who do not desire it is no hardship, since only those who wish the privilege will use it. On the other hand, it becomes an intolerable oppression to deny it to those who want it. The vote is permissive, not obligatory. It imposes no definite responsibility; it extends a liberty. That there are women who do not want the vote is true, but the well-known large number of qualified men who do not use the vote, indicates that the desire to have someone else assume the responsibility of public service is not confined to women. It is an easy excuse to say “wait until all the women want it,” but it is a poor rule which doesn’t work both ways. Had it been necessary for members of Congress to wait until all men wanted the vote before they had one for themselves, we should be living in an unconstitutional monarchy. More, had it been necessary for women to wait until all women approved of college or even public school education for girls, property rights, the right of free speech, or any one of the many liberties now enjoyed by women, but formerly denied them, the iniquities of the old common law would still measure the privileges of women, and high schools and colleges would still close their doors to women.

A certain way to test whether any class of people want the vote is to note the numbers of those who use it when granted.

As men and women voters do not use separate boxes and as initials are often employed by both sexes in registration, election officials invariably reply to queries as to the number of women actually voting in their respective states, that positive figures are not obtainable. Yet the testimony, while lacking definite statement, is overwhelming that women in all lands vote in about the same proportion as men. Women in Illinois, not being possessed of complete suffrage rights, have voted in separate boxes, and figures are therefore obtainable. The report from the City of Chicago for 1916 as submitted by the Chief Clerk of the Board of Election Commissioners is as follows:


Although New York City is nearly two and a half times as large as Chicago, the registration of the latter exceeded that of New York by 69,307.

The following is quoted from an official statement issued by the California Civic League on what the women of California have done with the vote:

“There has been some attempt on the part of those opposed to women voting to make it appear that in San Francisco particularly, women were slow to register and loth to vote. The fact is always suppressed that there are never less than 132 men to every 100 women in the city and that women therefore should properly be only forty-three per cent. of the total number of voting adults. At the last mayoralty election the women unquestionably re-elected the incumbent as against Eugene Schmitz of graft-prosecution fame, who tried to ’come back.’ In this election women constituted thirty-seven per cent. of the total registered vote and the women of the best residence districts voted in the proportion of forty-two to forty-four per cent. of the total vote cast in those precincts; while in the downtown, tenderloin and dance-hall districts women constituted only twenty-seven per cent. of the registration and negligible portion of the vote. These proportions have been substantially maintained in minor elections since, and were slightly increased in the National election of November, 1916, when they comprised thirty-nine per cent. of the registration and voted within two per cent. as heavily as men.”

From no state comes the report that women have not used their vote. The evidence that they do use it has been so largely distributed through the press, that more definite proof seems unnecessary, even were it possible to secure it. The following bits of testimony taken from press reports are of interest:

In WYOMING, out of 45,000 registered voters, 20,000 are reported as women. But Wyoming has 219 men to every 100 women of voting age. Therefore to compare favorably with Wyoming’s 20,000 women voters there should the 53,800 men.

In MONTANA, one-third of a registration of 255,000 is made up of women. Montana has 189.6 men to every 100 women. As there were only 81,741 women of voting age in Montana in 1910, the present number, 85,000, must mean that nearly every woman in the state voted in 1916.

About 40% of UTAH’S 130,000 registration is made up of women. Utah has 6 men of voting age to every 5 women, 20% more men than women.

In IDAHO, out of a registration of 95,000, there are 40,000 women. Idaho has more than half as many again men as women. Therefore to have a fifty-fifty representation at the polls, Idaho should have registered 60,000 men instead of 55,000 to match its 40,000 women.


This objection is urged by members in whose states there have been referenda on the subject in recent years with adverse results. Members of Congress are apportioned among the several states according to population and are constitutionally obligated to represent women as well as men. As the electors of no constituency have voted solidly against woman suffrage, such objectors are accepting instructions from less than half their adult constituents and often from less than one-fourth. Women have had no opportunity to speak for themselves. As a matter of very suggestive fact, thirty-five members of Congress, who upon interview have expressed opposition to the Federal Amendment, were elected by minorities. Some of these represent states which have had a referendum on woman suffrage and were elected by a smaller number of total votes than their respective districts gave the suffrage amendment. These are such curious facts, that it is difficult to believe in the sincerity of the objection. That men and elements which have contributed money and work to secure the election of a member of Congress instruct him how to vote is more believable. For the sake of the common welfare of the American people, it is well, that the number of such members is probably few.

V. POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY. The South professes to fear the increased Negro vote; the North, the increased Foreign vote; the rich, the increased labor vote; the conservative, the increased illiterate vote. The Republicans since the recent presidential election fear the increased Democratic vote; the Democrats fear the woman voters’ support was only temporary. The “wet” fears the increased dry vote; the “dry” the increased controlled wet vote. Certain very numerous elements fear the increased Catholic vote and still others the increased Jewish vote. The Orthodox Protestant and Catholic fear the increased free-thinking vote and the free-thinkers are decidedly afraid of the increased church vote. Labor fears the increased influence of the capitalistic class, and capitalists, especially of the manufacturing group, are extremely disturbed at the prospect of votes being extended to their women employees. Certain groups fear the increased Socialist vote and certain Socialists fear the “lady vote.” Party men fear women voters will have no party consciousness and prove so independent as to disintegrate the party. Radical or progressive elements fear that women will be “stand-pat” partisans. Ballot reformers fear the increased corrupt vote and corruptionists fear the increased reform vote. Militarists are much alarmed lest women increase the peace vote and, despite the fact that the press of the country has poured forth increasing evidence that the women of every belligerent country have borne their full share of the war burden with such unexpected skill and ability that the authorities have been lavish in acknowledgment, seem certain that women of the United States will prove the exception to the world’s rule and show the white feather if war threatens.

Ridiculous as this list of objections may appear, each is supported earnestly by a considerable group, and collectively they furnish the basis of opposition to woman suffrage in and out of Congress.

The answer to one is the answer to all.

Government by “the people” is expedient or it is not. If it is expedient, then obviously all the people must be included. If it is not expedient, the simplest logic leads to the conclusion that the classes to be deprived of the franchise should be determined by their qualities of unfitness for the vote. If education, intelligence, grasp of public questions, patriotism, willingness and ability to give public service, respect of law, are selected as fair qualifications for those to be entrusted with the vote and the opposite as the qualities of those to be denied the vote, it follows that men and women will be included in the classes adjudged fit to vote, and also in those adjudged unfit to vote. Meanwhile the system which admits the unworthy to the vote provided they are men, and shuts out the worthy provided they are women, is so unjust and illogical that its perpetuation is a sad reflection upon American thinking.

The clear thinker will arrive at the conclusion that women must be included in the electorate if our country wishes to be consistent with the principles it boasts as fundamental. The shortest method to secure this enfranchisement is the quickest method to extricate our country from the absurdity of its present position.

VI. THE LOW STANDARDS OF CITIZENSHIP which lead to controlled votes, bribery and various forms of corruptions, will be accentuated by woman suffrage with the doubling of every dangerous element, hence any effort to postpone its coming is justifiable. Woman suffrage will increase the proportion of intelligent voters. According to the Commissioners of Education there are now one-third more girls in the high schools of the country than boys. In 1914, the latest figures, 64,491 boys were graduated from the high schools of the United States and 96,115 girls. In the normal schools the educational report for 1915 states that 80 per cent. of the pupils were girls. The Census of 1910 reports a larger number of illiterate men than illiterate women.

Woman suffrage would increase the moral vote. Only one out of every twenty criminals are women. Women constitute a minority of drunkards and petty misdemeanants, and in all the factors that tend to handicap the progress of society women form a minority; whereas in churches, schools and all organizations working for the uplift of humanity, women are a majority. In all American states and countries that have adopted equal suffrage the vote of the disreputable woman is practically negligible, the slum wards of cities invariably having the lightest woman vote and the respectable residence wards the heaviest. Woman suffrage would increase the number of native born voters as for every 100 foreign white women immigrants coming to this country there are 129 men, while among Asiatic immigrants the men outnumber the women two to one, according to the Census of 1910.

Woman suffrage would help to correct election procedure. In all states where women vote, the polling booths have been moved into homes, church parlors, school houses or other similar respectable places. Women serve as election officials and the subduing influence of woman’s presence elsewhere has had its effect upon the elections. Women greatly increase the number of competent persons who can be drawn upon as election officials. No class of persons in the nation is so well trained as school teachers for this work. The presence of women as voters and officials would in itself eliminate certain types of irregularity and go a long way toward establishing a higher standard of election procedure. Woman suffrage cannot possibly make political conditions worse, since all the elements which combine to produce those conditions are less conspicuous among women than men. On the other hand the introduction of a new class possessing a very large number of persons who would unwillingly tolerate some of the conditions now prevailing offers evidence that a powerful influence for better things would come with the woman’s vote.


It should be remembered that prohibition may be obtained by statutory enactment, a privilege denied woman suffrage; that it has been largely established by local option, another privilege denied woman suffrage. These facts account for the larger success as indicated by relative territory covered by prohibition and woman suffrage.

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