Carrie Chapman Catt

Statement at U. S. Senate Hearing before Committee on Woman Suffrage - March 3, 1908

Carrie Chapman Catt
March 03, 1908— Washington, D.C.
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Catt delivered this statement as the president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

Gentlemen and members of the committee, I can only repeat some of the things which have already been said. The conditions under which the right of suffrage can be granted to women in the United States, are harder than in any other nation in the world. We are the only nation where suffrage may not be granted by an act of Parliament, and that accounts, undoubtedly, for the great extension to suffrage that has been given to women in other lands. We have but two ways in which we can secure the suffrage; by amendment of State constitutions, or by amendment of the National Constitution. If we go to the legislatures to ask for suffrage there, what is the result? In my native State of Iowa, ever since I have known anything of public affairs, women have carried the question of woman suffrage to every legislature. They have carried petitions with them from all classes of the State; organizations have sprung up here and there to be discouraged after years of nonlegislative action; not because they believed in woman suffrage less, but because they could get nothing from the legislatures, and never has it been submitted to a vote of the State. In my adopted State of New York, we need not go further back than 1894, when 600,000 people sent petitions to the constitutional convention. So numerous were those petitions that it was necessary to carry them down the aisle of the convention hall upon a wheelbarrow, and when these were piled upon the desks of the secretaries, they were buried out of sight, and yet that convention did not submit the question. Since that time, thousands of women of New York have been going before the legislature asking submission of the question. We ask only the privilege of petitioning the people, who alone have the right to give us the suffrage, and yet we are not able to get our question before the legislature, for the committees invariably quash the petition within the closed doors of the committee room.

This year, upwards of half a million of people were represented in the hearing recently held in Albany, and possibly there will be the same reply there has been before. When now and then the question is submitted, what is the result? We must go before the rank and file of voters, and I ask you, gentlemen, what would be your feelings-you who come from the South, who feel a repugnance to the negro vote-how would you like your women folks to seek the suffrage from them? What chance do you think we shall have when we go to the city of New York to appeal to that great body of men who maintain the white slave traffic, bringing young and innocent females from all lands to replenish houses of prostitution? What chance have we when we go to the saloon keepers, the managers of a business which steals away men's reason? What chance have we when we appeal anywhere to prejudice? In the year 1890 I came to the first Congressional hearing I had ever heard, and since that time I have been present at every Congressional hearing but one. Never once in that eighteen years has there ever been a full attendance of the woman's suffrage committee. Never once have the 5 members whose only duty it is to consider our hearing and act upon it ever given our petition sufficient respect to attend in a body and hear what we have to say; yet this committee stands between us and Congress to-day and we can only appeal to Congress through this committee. Gentlemen, I do not ask you to believe in woman suffrage, for we know you have no authority to grant it. We only ask you to be true democrats in a democratic government and give us the opportunity to try our cause before the only court which may have constitutional jurisdiction over it. We only ask you to bring this question back to the Senate in order that we may thus appeal to our members; that we may ask them in turn to report this question to the legislatures. The thing we ask does not in any wise compromise you with your political party; it need not embarrass you with your constituents. It is only giving a cause the right of free speech and free petition.

When we observe that the women of other civilized lands are, one by one, intrusted with the right and privilege of suffrage for which women in this country have so long struggled in vain, it is with the deepest humiliation that we reflect upon the impossibility to get our question beyond the authority of a committee. We ask you, gentlemen, to give to us the opportunity of trying our cause with the legislatures upon a sixteenth amendment. We do not know that this legislature would grant the right we ask. We only know that legislators are supposedly more intelligent and more reasonable than the mass of constituents behind them. We have been coming here year after year for many years, and you must surely recognize that we are persons of fair intelligence, education, refinement, and self-respect. We ask you, you who should appreciate these qualities in women, to save us from the humiliation of being obliged to take our question to those who possess no refinement, education, or self-respect. Give us at least the opportunity of appealing to those who may justly b i called our peers. Let us have the benefit at least of the simplest method by which we can secure the suffrage. Gentlemen, you may say the method we propose is not constitutional. It was the method by which the negro was enfranchised, and if that act was not, constitutional then no election in the United States since that day has been constitutional and no Member of this Congress holds his rank legally and constitutionally, since negroes are numbered in every constituency. It is constitutional. It must be; and we only ask you to give to us the same benefit which was given to the negro. It is very little we ask of you, gentlemen. We have heard much of American chivalry and American fairness to women, and we may surely appeal to these qualities and ask you to do this thing in the interest of ordinary fair play. We ask you to extend to us this small favor because it is just and right that women who have been engaged in this movement for fifty years shall be permitted to present their petition and their arguments to the bodies, which alone can grant or deny their request. The right of petition is an honored and a sacred one in this country and yet, owing to the peculiarity of constitutional law, it is a rig which has never been possible to women suffragists; committees continually stand between them and the body they would petition. We urge that this time a report shall be returned to the Senate.

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U.S. Senate Hearing before Committee on Woman Suffrage on Joint Resolution proposing suffrage amendment to U. S. Constitution. (1908, March). [Online Text] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,