Carrie Chapman Catt

Statement before U.S. House Judiciary Committee – Feb. 16, 1904

Carrie Chapman Catt
February 16, 1904— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

Catt's Opening Statement

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, last year when we appeared before the committee to speak in behalf of the bill asking the submission of the 16th Amendment, we also we also petitioned this committee to use its influence for the appointment of a commission which should investigate the operation of woman's suffrage in the States where it now exists. We called the attention of the committee to the fact that Congress had appointed a great many commissions for investigation of the conditions, political and otherwise, of various classes of people, and inasmuch as we have come here year after year claiming that woman suffrage had wrought none of the ills which its enemies said it would, and that it had brought many benefits, we asked that Congress should, through a commission, investigate it in the Western States. You are aware that no such commission was the result of our petition.

You remember that when Mahomet commanded the mountain to come to him and the mountain did not come he said, "Then Mahomet will come to the mountain." We have therefore this year brought Colorado to you, and the speakers who will address you this morning are all of them Colorado people.

The first speaker who will address you is a young woman who was a voter when she became 21 years of age. I remember very well once being away from home and speaking upon the question of woman's suffrage; and when I returned my young brother; who had just turned 21 in my absence, said to me rather facetiously, "Sister, have things fixed so that you can vote now?" I replied that I had not, and he said "Well, perhaps if you would stay at home and do nothing you would get that way. I did." This is a young woman who got that way without doing anything to enfranchise herself, and has never known anything else than the privilege of going to the polls just as a young man does when he is 21 years of age—Mrs. Katherine Cook.

Catt's Concluding Statement

Mr. Chairman, one of our speakers from Colorado, a prominent newspaper man and editor of the chief Republican paper of the State, who was to have been with us this morning, I suppose has been delayed by his train, perhaps, and is not here. I had not expected to speak to you, and this closes our list of speakers; but since there is some time, I could not think of letting you get away without saying something more.

First, I would like to add this for Colorado, which I think no one mentioned. When the question of enfranchisement for women came up ten years ago, it came as a legislative enactment by a referendum—a very peculiar condition, and I think the only law of that kind that has ever passed anywhere in the United States.

When the constitution of Colorado was first made, in the constitutional convention, I think, of 1876, a provision was placed in it that at any time when the legislature saw fit it could enfranchise the women by a referendum to the voters of the State, and that was done. It was passed by 6,000 majority. Last year, after then year of the enfranchisement of the women, an amendment to the constitution—the other had not been an amendment, you understand—was submitted to the voters of the State, now both men and women, concerning the qualifications of the voters, and in that amendment there was included, of course, the recognition of the enfranchisement of women quite as much as the enfranchisement of men, so that it was virtually a woman's suffrage amendment. That amendment was passed by a majority of 35,000, showing certainly that after ten years of experience the people in the State are far more willing than before to put woman suffrage in the constitution, where it became an integral part of it.

Mr. LITTLEFIELD. About what was the total vote?

Mrs. CATT. I can not tell you that.

I wish to call your attention to a fact which it seems to me our American men in politics, and especially in these positions which virtually place them between us and our own enfranchisement, have thought of very little; but we who are brought so closely in contact with this movement are made to realize it at its full. Mr. Chairman, when the American constitution was formulated, of course, as all the world knows, it was the first constitution of its kind, and this was the first Republic of its kind. Man suffrage was an experiment, and it was considered universally a very doubtful experiment. If we turn backward in our history for one hundred years and read the opinions of the thinkers of that day, we find the overwhelming evidence that the thinkers of the world feared that if this Republic should fail to live it would come to its end through the instability of the minds of men, and that revolutionary thought would arise here and there to overturn the Government. That seems to have been the governing thought in every man's mind. We find it in George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and all of our own heroes, as well as the men who were watching the experiment here so anxiously from across the sea.

What was the result? The result was they framed a constitution and made it just as ironclad as they could. They made that constitution so as to prevent its amendment and change. They made it just as difficult for the fundamental law of the nation to be made different as they knew how to do; and granting for the moment, whether you believe it or not—and at least I know one of you does not believe it—that woman suffrage is right and just, just for the sake of the argument, then see what is our position to-day. Those of us who wish to enter the political life, who believe that we have quite as large a right to express ourselves as any man in this country, what is our position? Within the last century there have been extensions after extensions of the suffrage, and since the time when the property qualification for the ballot was taken away, every single extension of the suffrage has come from Congress and not from the people.

You remember well that when the desire to enfranchise the negro came before our people, when the Republican party was supreme in the North, and when it was pretty nearly supreme through the carpetbag government in the South, when the whole machine of politics was in its power, and it desired the enfranchisement of the negro, the question was submitted by amendments in our various Northern States and in every single case it was defeated, and it was not until an amendment was presented by the National Congress to the legislatures of the states that it was possible to have that amendment go through.

It will be remembered that our Indians have never been enfranchised by votes of the people, but they have been enfranchised by the act of Congress, and now we have the Hawaiians coming in, not by the act of the people of the United States anywhere, but by the act of Congress, and yet every extension of the suffrage to men through Congress put the suffrage for women just that much further off.

To-day there are in this country 977,000 totally illiterate negroes, and unless they happen to be in those States where their own State government has disfranchised them for various causes, they have the power to-day to say whether Mrs. Grenfell, who holds one of the highest offices in her State, shall be privileged to vote if she shall come to the State of New York, where in New York City we have seen thousands and thousands of negro men totally illiterate, with 65,000 men in that one city unable to read and write, and hundreds and thousands more who know but just a little more than the alphabet.

And while these extensions of the suffrage through the acts of Congress have come, it has put into the constituency thousands and millions of men every one of whom is so ignorant that he can not comprehend any act concerning the liberty of a human being. Not one of them among all these illiterate classes could you find who would believe in woman suffrage, for the more ignorant a man is the more sure is he that a woman does not know enough to vote, and the more evil is he the more sure is he that a woman's character can not stand the strain of enfranchisement; and to-day, according to the report of Mr. Harris, the Commissioner of Education, just printed, we have 2,234,000 men in this country who can not read their own ballots. Just think of it; 11 percent of the total vote, and the total vote is 21,000,000 men, and in the last Presidential election there were nearly 14,000,000 men who cast their votes, showing that but 7,000,000, or an exact third of the total vote of men, was uncast in that election, and consequently the percentage is much higher of those who are illiterate, provided the full vote had been case, as you and I know that they do in too many of the precincts of the country, and we know that their votes do not represent their own opinion, but they represent the opinion of the unscrupulous politician who is anxious to place the vote of his precinct for his party at the highest possible number.

And so I do ask of you, in common fairness, to give us a favorable report from this committee on the sixteenth amendment. Otherwise we are compelled to go, we will say, to the great State of New York and ask the legislature first to submit an amendment. Then we must go down into the byways and the hedges and the red-light districts and upon our knees fairly pray before those depraved men to recognize our right put our prayers m the ballot box.

In my own State of Iowa, where I was born and educated, we have even a stricter regulation, for there we must go to one legislature and when we have succeeded in carrying an amendment through we must wait two years until the next biennial legislature comes and then we must get it through again, and if we can do it, then the people may have the right to vote upon it; and in that State you remember there was a prohibitory law for a number of years. It was passed while I was still a schoolgirl, but it has governed the politics of that State ever since.

Now the law no longer exists, but there are certain classes of people who are determined that it shall never come again; and whenever the question of woman suffrage is raised anywhere, these classes of people say, "We do not dare to let the women vote lest the prohibitory law shall come again." The result is that the bill for the submission of woman suffrage may creep through one legislature, and then every whisky man in the State and every saloon and brewing interest unite, and with money behind them go up to the next legislature, sending their own candidates to fill it, and consequently the question is defeated. For four successive terms an amendment went through the first legislature, to be defeated by the second. It went through the third to be defeated by the fourth; and for eight years that plan continued, always because of the interest of those who stand in the very lowest lines in the State sending their men to the legislature to defeat this thing.

I am myself not a prohibitionist, and yet I do say that if the majority of the men and women of any State want prohibition and only half the people keep a high-license law, it is an infamy, and it is no democracy for which we stand in this country, and I say that if half the people keep a prohibitory law when the majority of the whole people want a license law, it is just as great an infamy. And so to-day we do not know what may be the laws of any of our States, because the majority of the adults of our people do not know.

I want to confess to you where lies our greatest humiliation. There are those who began this movement for the enfranchisement of women and who in years gone by have come to plead before this or former Judiciary Committees who are now dead and gone, and those of us who now stand before you may perhaps die and others succeed us before the submission of this question may come, but we are coming and others are coming after us until the deed is done and until the women of this country are enfranchised; but meanwhile, since last we were here, two years ago, and made our petition before this committee we have learned that over in Australia, through the first Federal Parliament, by almost its first act, the women of all that great Commonwealth, about 850,000, were enfranchised. They were given the right to vote for the members of the Federal Parliament by Federal enactment.

Previous to that time they had had all the minor suffrage, including the municipal, leaving them only the one little lapse of the right to vote for members of their State parliament or legislatures—as we call them here—and that has been steadily followed by the extension of the suffrage in these States until now, with the exception of two States only, all the women of Australia are permitted to vote upon the same terms with men; and in these two States—Victoria and Queensland—bills are now pending in the legislature, and the only question lies in the hereditary House of Lords; for if they had none and it depended only on the House of Commons it would long ago have passed, for in Victoria at least, where there is a large population, the bills have all passed the House of Commons many successive years.

When we turn across the water and look at Norway and Sweden, conservative monarchical countries, we find the women are voting in municipal affairs, because the Parliament of the nation has within itself the power to grant suffrage; and so we may go all over Europe; and yesterday we had the word from Denmark that the bill was pending in the Danish Parliament, with the support of the premier and last night, because it was Miss Anthony's birthday, they had set that particular time to have a great demonstration in favor of this bill.

Do you not see, gentlemen, that while in this country there are millions of people who believe in the enfranchisement of woman, while we have more sentiment for this idea than in any other country in the world, yet we are restricted by this stone wall of the constitutional limitations which were set at a time when a republican form of government was a totally new and untried thing, and because of that we find ourselves distanced by the countries that are monarchies and the women being enfranchised in other lands and coming to us to express their pity and their sympathy for the American women who can not have the advantages they have in their own homes? One such woman has been with us in our convention here, a woman who has within her power to vote on all questions in her own country, and she fails to understand why it is that here in America, where the movement was born, and to which they have been accustomed to look for their guidance, we are still disfranchised.

So I ask of you gentlemen that you will this time make a report to the House of Representatives, and if you do not believe that we are right for Heaven's sake make an adverse report. Anything will be more satisfactory than the indifference with which we have been received. Do at least recognize that we have a cause, that there are people here whose hearts are aching because this movement can not go on, because we see great movements in this land to which we desire to give our help and our aid and our vote, and yet we are chained right here to work for the weapon that is not yet within our hands.

A gentleman said to me that one reason why the Judiciary Committee did not give a report one way or the other was because it was too much trouble to write the report; that the committee were very busy and they did not know exactly how to express themselves, and consequently that was the reason they did not do it. I do not know whether there is anything in that or not; but, if there is, let me ask of you to turn to the records of this Judiciary Committee, and you will find other reports that have been made in years past. I can not give you the dates now, but the last, I think, was given when the lamented Thomas B. Reed was the chairman of this committee, and one of the most eloquent that ever presided over it; and previous to that I know there was another one made by Representative Tayler, of Ohio, and other reports have been made that were favorable; but if you, Mr. Chairman—and I know you would hate to give a favorable report—feel that you can not offer a favorable report, and that the majority of the committee is not favorable, then I do beg of you, in behalf of the women of the United States, to show the people of this land where you stand and to give an adverse report. That is all we ask of you.

Now, Mr. Chairman, this closes our hearing, unless you have questions to ask. I ask if we may have the benefit which has been conferred upon us heretofore of our customary number of printed copies. We had 5,000 last year and we had 5,000, I think, the year before.

The CHAIRMAN. How many will satisfy your request?

Mrs. CATT. We will be satisfied with 5,000. We will be grateful for any number you can give us above that.

The CHAIRMAN. Will it satisfy you if we give you 15,000?

Mrs. CATT. We shall be delighted.

Mr. LITTLEFIELD. It does not cost us anything to give you the reports, you know.

Mrs. CATT. We could not accept the 15,000 as a sort of bribe and let you off from the report.

The CHAIRMAN. We want to make you just as happy as possible.

Mr. ALEXANDER. You do not really believe what you have just stated about our committee, that we did not make any report because we were unwilling to take the time to write a report, since you yourself two years ago, I remember, offered to write a very strong favorable report, and you remember the antisuffragist lady who was here from Boston offered to write us one on the other side?

Mrs. CATT. Yes.

Mr. ALEXANDER, So our reports were all written for us if we wanted them.

Mrs. CATT, I was only quoting what I had heard about the committee and telling you you could find models if you wanted to save your time.

Mr. LITTLEFIELD. I understood that that was really the best reason you had heard for the nonaction by the committee.

Mrs. CATT. That is the only reason I had ever heard.

The CHAIRMAN. We have got so down here that we do not believe all we hear.

Mr. HENRY. I want to ask in how many States women are allowed to vote. I want it to go in the hearing.

Mrs. CATT. Women are allowed in the United States to vote on the same terms with men in all elections in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. They are permitted to vote in municipal affairs and school elections and bond questions in Kansas. They are permitted to vote upon the question of taxation, where questions concerning the bonding of a town, for instance, or the building of a schoolhouse or matters of that kind are submitted, in 4 States. They are permitted to vote on school elections in 18 other States. I have not counted the same State in these different classifications. Four States have full suffrage; 4 States have bond suffrage; 1 State has municipal suffrage; that makes 9, and there are 18 in addition.

Mr. HENRY. And they are allowed to hold office in these four?

Mrs. CATT. They are allowed to hold any office for which they can vote in any of those States. There never has been any restriction in the law made anywhere; but, in addition to that, they are eligible to certain offices in a good many States where they do not vote. For instance, in my State of Iowa they are eligible to county superintendent of schools and to the recorder of deeds, and the first State superintendent of schools who was a woman was in North Dakota, where before the women were not permitted to vote. They do now for school suffrage.

Mr. ALEXANDER. ·Mr. Chairman, before the ladies separate I should like to say, in explanation of the large number of vacant chairs about this table, that I think there was some misunderstanding, certainly on the part of quite a number of my Republican colleagues, because of the death of Senator Hanna last night, that this committee and other committee hearings through Congress might be postponed until another morning. I am sure that accounts for the absence of three or four of my Republican colleagues here who otherwise would be present. I think this is the third or fourth hearing, Mr. Chairman, that you and I have sat at this table.

Mr. LITTLEFIED. I have no doubt that applies to the minority also. It is not peculiar to Republican members by any means.

Mr. HENRY. And there are only two of the minority members absent.

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. Chairman, I think there has hardly ever been a vacant chair at the table when the ladies have honored us.

Mr. SMITH. Let me suggest that three members of this committee are now in the State of Florida composing a subcommittee.

The CHAIRMAN. I think the ladies understand there is no intention to show them any disrespect whatever. I know that all the members would have been glad to be here and hear them. As Mr. Alexander says, we have heard them four times, and it is just as interesting to-day as it was the first time we heard them.

The committee thereupon adjourned.

PDF version