Carrie Chapman Catt

Statement at a Hearing Before the House Committee on Rules – Dec. 3, 1913

Carrie Chapman Catt
December 03, 1913— Washington, D.C.
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MRS. CATT: Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, inasmuch as the United States Constitution apportioned the Members of Congress to the population of the various States, it follows that the women are equally the constituents of every Member of this Congress. Inasmuch as women ask very little, it seems to me that every courtesy ought to be extended to them on that account, and the thing that we ask for is, after all, something that is in accord with the most fundamental claims of our Government, the one which has always been our special American hobby—free speech; the free hearing of every kind of claim. There was once a great struggle in this Congress over the right of petition, and I believe it was considered to have been at that time forever established as the right of the most insignificant individual in this country to come to his particular Member of Congress and to present to him in full any grievance which he might wish to have righted. Now, our peculiar distress is that we are not entitled to the right to present our grievances in accordance with these American ideas and fundamental principles.

A few weeks ago there was a dispatch sent out from this city of Washington in which the statement was made that the Judiciary Committee for the next year was going to be more overworked than it had ever been before. It was accompanied by a letter which was made public from the President to Mr. Clayton, in which he begged of him to continue as chairman of that committee and to withdraw from his candidacy for the Senate from Alabama, because this committee was going to do more work than the committee had ever been called upon to do before. He called attention to the fact that the Ways and Means Committee had been obliged to work day and night, sometimes spending the whole night. I believe, upon their particular business, and he warned Mr. Clayton that this might be the expectation of the Judiciary Committee in this coming Congress. In the times past, when the Judiciary Committee only worked during the day time, we have not been able to get the attention which we believe our cause demands, and we think that with this additional work it is quite impossible to expect more attention than we have had in the past.

After the suggestion was offered by your committee, Mr. Chairman, that possibly this business might go before the Elections Committee, two or three of the ladies went out from the room and have interviewed someone, I do not know who, or whether they saw the right person, but three different ones have brought back the report, the last one of which I hold here, that the President's plan for presidential primary legislation will make the Elections Committee a very busy one this coming session, and, as it is likely to be as busy as the Committee on the Judiciary, it is not a very feasible committee to take over this business. They have also happened to mention that there are a good many committees that seem to have to do with minor causes.

It is my understanding that committees are appointed with special relations to their ability to treat of the subjects which come before them. Among these committees of which I had never heard before, I find one upon the disposition of useful executive papers. It strikes me that that might be a suitable committee to take over this subject, provided it is appointed with special view to its ability to treat of useless executive papers, because the particular thing we want is to get rid of one useless adjective in the United States Constitution. However, when this business goes before a committee already appointed, that committee is presumably appointed for the special purposes for which the committee existed at the time of its appointment. A new committee would presumably be appointed with reference to the business it was to conduct.

The questions was asked if we expected that all members of the committee would be favorable to our cause. Our committee would naturally be appointed by the same processes that other committees are appointed. Doubtless the committee would be selected with reference to the political complexion of the House as in other cases. We could not expect that all of the members of such a committee would be favorable, but we certainly should expect that we would have members on that committee who would come from States where women vote.

I recall with great distinctness that in some years past a very eminent gentleman—I will say, for the comfort of this committee, that he was a Senator, not a member of the House—this very distinguished gentleman, who was chairman of the Woman Suffrage Committee, said, after hearing of the women upon this question, he said this to a fellow Senator, who gave the words verbatim to the rest of us—that he did not know any man or any individual who could find an answer to the arguments which the women had presented, and that they were absolutely beyond reply, but, said he, ''I would rather see my wife dead in her coffin than going down to the polls to vote." Now, if our committee to be is composed of men who are governed by superstition rather than by reason, we should not fare any better than we have in the past. We want a committee that is up to date, as sufficiently up to date as the House of Representatives ought to be. I am informed also, although I do not know for myself that this is true, because it is so far back in ancient history that I do not profess to know, but I understand that the last time the question of woman's suffrage was discussed in this House was in 1866. There was a discussion at the time Wyoming was admitted to statehood, but with that exception there has been nothing since 1866.

We pride ourselves in this country upon democracy; we pride ourselves upon giving the people a chance, as I have already said, to right their grievances. Yet, while the Judiciary Committee have declined to report upon our bill and thus to bring it before the House, where it may be discussed, the question of woman suffrage has been discussed in the imperial parliaments of 12 European countries in the last parliamentary term; that is, of 1912 and 1913. I give you the list, which is as follows: Great Britain, Iceland, Denmark, Norway—which discussed it with such good effect that it will never need to discuss it again, having enfranchised women—France, which two years before had appointed one of its members chairman of a committee to make an investigation into the merits or demerits of woman suffrage throughout the world, and upon the report of that committee the question was again discussed. As a result of it several of the councils of the cities of France, including that of Paris, have recently passed resolutions calling upon the Parliament to take action and give the vote to women. Sweden also discussed it and two years ago appointed a committee to conduct an investigation, as France did. The chairman of that committee was notably hostile to this question, and yet despite that fact his report contained so much evident to the good that the King of Sweden recommended woman suffrage in his message, and it was only defeated by the upper house. It was even discussed, gentlemen, in the Duma of Russia upon three distinct different occasions this last winter. It was discussed in Switzerland upon a bill extending the vote to the State church, which as passed. It was discussed in Belgium, at which time the Government of Belgium answered the appeal of the Socialists, who had gone upon a national strike, that if they compelled the Government to give universal suffrage to men they would retaliate and give universal suffrage to women. It was discussed in Holland in connection with the proposal for a constitutional commission. It was discussed in Portugal, and it was discussed in Italy. There are all imperial parliaments.

The list is so much shorter of the European countries, where it was not discussed, that I will give it. It was not discussed in the Imperial Parliament of Austria; although it was discussed in what we call the State Parliament of Bohemia, where the suffrage was again ratified by the legislature, having been in existence ever since 1861, even before the days of Wyoming It was discussed in Waidhofen, in South Austria, and the vote was made direct and compulsory for women property owners in that Province. It was not discussed in the German Imperial Reichstag, but was in some of the local diets, notably Bavaria. It was not discussed in Spain, although a bill was introduced. In the countries in southeastern Europe, which have been involved in war, at which time we do not expect discussion on subjects such as this, it was not discussed; that is, in Greece, Roumania, or Servia; but in Servia a case came before the courts in which a woman demanded the ancient right of the vote which had been in the possession of the women ever since the days of feudalism. It was not discussed in Turkey. There are 8 European countries which did not discuss this question in the last term of parliament and 12 which did. I think we may excuse local diets, and we may excuse the war countries, because they were otherwise engaged. And so it seems to remain that the United States Congress and the Parliament of Turkey are the only ones who, in this day, refuse to discuss the question.

MR HARDWICK: It seems to me that I have an indistinct recollection of having heard some discussion of it in the Congress. It seems to me I heard Mr. Heflin, of Alabama, discuss the matter briefly.

MRS. CATT: Possibly that is true, but I do not think it was discussed upon the merits of a bill.

MR HARDWICK: And I think there has been some discussion of it in the Senate.

MRS. CATT: Yes; there has been a bill, but the bill has not been discussed, has it?

MR HARDWICK: The subject matter has been discussed.

MRS. CATT: But in these other cases of which I speak it was not discussed as merely a topic for casual conversation. It was discussed on the merits of the bills in every single case, except Holland, when it was in relation to the calling of a constitutional convention.

MR HARDWICK: If you will pardon me for just a moment, the reason why that is true in all these countries is not true in this country, because here our States by local laws reach these matters, while there the imperial parliaments of most of those countries, except Austria-Hungary, do their own vote regulating. Is not that the difference?

MRS. CATT: Of course there is that difference, Mr. Congressman. But I wish to add my opinion to that which Miss Addams presented here, that while we have given the right to the States to extend the vote, that is the most outrageously unfair process through which any class of unenfranchised citizens of any land have ever been called upon to secure their enfranchisement, and that is the reason why we come to Congress. We believe it has the right to give the vote to us, and that it is the duty of Congress to do so, because Congress, in its naturalization laws, has given citizenship to men, while the States in collaboration with them, I may say, have given the vote to those naturalized citizens, a fact which virtually makes the United States enfranchise the men who come from other countries.

It is a technical difference only, Mr. Chairman, but I stand here to say that today the overwhelming majority of the men of this country have not secured their suffrage by any vote at the polls of the State in which they possess the vote today. If there are such men, I ask where are they? The only class that I have ever been able to find in our history so enfranchised are the working men in the original 13 colonies, and they were given the vote by that process long ago when the population was exceedingly small. There are more men today voting on the basis of their citizenship under naturalization than for any other reason whatsoever, and yet our State constitutions compel us to go to those men and ask our vote at their hands. These men who have condescended to live here five years only may then say whether the women, who have been born and bred here and educated in our schools, shall have the vote. It happens that in Europe, with the exception of Switzerland, the vote may be given by parliamentary enactment, and it is given by the right to bring our question to Congress, and that is why we ask for our committee.

MR HARDWICK: You are making pretty good progress now by States, are you not?

MRS CATT: We are making good progress by States, but if you were not a voter, I will ask you what you think your chances would be if you were to try to present your cause, your man's cause, with all its prestige in this country—your man's cause to all these newly enfranchised men under naturalization who do not even know our language or how to read a newspaper.

MR. HARDWICK: Well, that would be pretty bad, but you have made the most progress in the States where there is the largest percentage of foreign populations, have you not?

(Calls of "no" from the audience.)

MR. HARWICK: I stand corrected then. I thought that was the case.

MRS. CATT: My time is up.

THE CHAIRMAN: We will give you a little more time.

MRS. CATT: I will say in conclusion, if I may, that we are going to stand by our right to get the vote by as easy a process as it was given to the negro, and while there are gentlemen in the South who do not think that that was done in a very constitutional way—and I entirely agree with them—nevertheless it has stood the test of some 40 years, and it is a part of the Constitution. If this country could do that for the black man it can do it for us. If the Constitution or the National Government has no power to extend the vote to women; if the majority of this Congress thinks it has no such power, then I ask this Congress to call a national constitutional convention and let us have a constitution which can do justice to the women of this country.

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