Carrie Chapman Catt

Be Joyful Today/We've Won – Feb. 13, 1920

Carrie Chapman Catt
February 13, 1920— Chicago, Illinois
Print friendly

The following are excerpts from a speech that Catt delivered at the opening session of the annual convention of the National Women Suffrage Association on February 13, 1920.

When we met in Saint Louis a little less than a year ago in the fiftieth annual convention of our Association, we all know that the end of our long struggle was near. We knew this without a reservation of a doubt. We comprehended the truth of Victor Hugo's sage epigram, "There is one thing more powerful than kings and armies—the idea whose time has come to move." We knew that the time for our idea was here. Since that date as state after state has joined the list of the ratified we have seen our idea, our cause move forward dramatically, majestically into its appropriate place as part of the construction of our nation.

We have no official proclamation to make announcing that our amendment has been ratified by the necessary thirty-six states; but the ratifications already completed and the special legislative sessions already called for ratification bring us within a very few of the required number. There is no earthly power that can do more than delay by a trifle the final enfranchisement of women.

The enemies of progress and liberty never surrender and never die. Ever since the days of cave men, they have stood ready with their sledge hammers to strike any liberal idea on the the head whenever it appeared. They are still active, hysterically active over our amendment, still imagining as their pregenitors for thousands of years have done, that a fly sitting on the wheel of progress may command it to revolve no more and that it will obey.

Suffragists were never dismayed when they were a tiny group and all the world against them. What care they now when all the world is with them? March on, suffragists—the victory is yours.

The trail has been long and winding; the struggle has been tedious and wearying, you made sacrafices and received many hard knocks. Be joyful today.

The war-weary world grew boisterous and noisy in its delight and joy over an armistic which wasn't here, but the world know that it was due, that is was inevitable. So there were two armistice days equally joyful.

Our final victory is due, is inevitable, is almost here. Let us celebrate today and when the proclamation comes, I beg you to celebrate the occasion with some form of joyous demonstration, in your own home state. Two armistice days made a happy ending of the war. Let two ratification days, one a national and one a state day, make an ending of the denial of political freedom to women.

Perhaps the months have seemed long and the progress slow since June 4, 1919, when Congress submitted the amendment.

The federal constitutional amendment ratified in the shortest time was the twelfth. It deals with the method of electing the President of the United States and was submitted by Congress on December 4, 1803. It was proclaimed as ratified on September 25, 1804, nine months and thirteen days later. There were seventeen states then and thirteen had ratified.

Our amendement was submitted June 4, 1919, and today, February 13, 1920, eight months and eight days later, it has been ratified by a speedier record than any other amendment. But the record of time is not the significant part of the story.

By far the greater number of ratifications have taken place in special sessions. Special sessions mean extra cost to the state, the opening of opportunity for other legislation and the occasion of political intrigue for or against the governors who call them. These obstacles have been difficult to overcome far more difficult than most of you will ever know and in a few instances well nigh insurmountable. But the point to emphasize today is that all obstacles were overcome.

On the whole the ratifications have moved forward in splendid triumphal procession. There have been many inspiring incidents of pluck, daring and clever moves on the part of suffragists to speed the campaign and there have been many incidents of courage, nobility of purpose and proud scorn of the pettiness of political enemies on the part of governors, legislators and men friends of our cause.

On the other hand there have been tricks, chicanery and misrepresentation, but let us forget them all—those are only the symptoms of the feeling of those who have lost a cause. Victors can afford to be generous.

Some day the history of these past few months will be written and if the writer catches the real spirit of it all it will be a thrilling story.

One incident only I am going to mention. When the amendment passed Congress, a few regular sessions of the 1919 legislatures were still in session. Among them the Illinois and Wiconsin legislatures were still sitting but were on the eve of adjournment and the amendment was hastened to them by wire. Both ratified promptly but owing to an error in the office of the federal Secretary of State a slight variation from the correct wording as submitted by Congress had been sent to Illinois. After a very spirited correspondence between the Governors of Illinois and Wisconsin, their respective Attorney Generals and the office of the federal Secretary of State it was decided that the date of the Illinois ratification should stand since the error was not hers. Illinois, our hostess state, therefore stands at the head of the list of ratifying states, but Wisconsin which ratified just forty minutes later occupies very worthily the second place. All honor to these two noble states, our hostess, and its next-door neighbor.

The most talked-of objection to special sessions has been the cost to the state. I want to record my personal opinion that in no instance was it a very important factor. The objection was in many instances a visible cloak to hide the real obstacle which was some local phase of politics. A very real and proper cause of delay was the expectation of the necessity of calling special sessions for other purposes and naturally the governor wished to avoid calling two special sessions.

It may be that enemies of a governor here and there may bring the charge of increased taxation despite the fact that the cost of a single day's session is insignificant. If so, I beg suffragists regardless of party affiliation to come forward to his defense.

If the governoer is a Republican, the facts are that had it not been that two Republican senators, namely Senator Borah of Idaho, and Senator Wadsworth of New York, refused to represent their states as indicated by votes at the polls, resolutions by their respective legislatures and planks in their party platforms, the suffrage amendment would have passed the 65th Congress. It would have come into the regular sessions of forty-two legislatures with more than thirty-six pledged to ratify and without a cent of extra cost to any state. When a Republican governor calls an extra session in order to ratify he merely atones for the inexplicable conduct of two members of his own party. They, not he, are blamable for the fact that special sessions became necessary.

If he is a Democratic governor, the facts are that had it not been for two northern Democrats—quite outside the pale of Southern traditions—namely Senator Pomerene of Ohio and Senator Hitchcock of Nebraska, who refused to represent their states on the question as indicated by their legislatures, the Democratic Congress, the 65th, would have sent the question to the 1919 legislatures and it would have cost the states nothing. The Democratic governor, who has called a special session, only makes honorable amends for the misrepresentation of members of his own party.

As the amendment needed but a single vote in the 65th Congress, the responsibility for its failure to pass may be laid upon any one of the four. They not only put their own states, New York, Idaho, Ohio and Nebraska, to the expense of extra sessions, but all the others. Ohio did not actually have a special session, but an adjourned session for the purpose which amounts to the same thing. I beg of you to set these facts before the people of your states in the event the question of cost becomes a campaign factor. If I catch any of you Republicans laying the blame on the two Democratic senators or any of you Democrats laying the blame on the two Republican senators I shall come to the defesne of your governor myself.

We may be a bit impatient but candor should make us realized that the progress of ratification has been safe, sane, wholesome and its final triumph certain.

We should be glad and grateful today but more we should be proud, proud that the fifty-one years of organized endeavor have been clean, constructive, conscientious. Our army never resorted to lies, innuendos, misrepresentation. It never called its enemies names. It never accused its opponents of being free-lovers, pro-German and Bolsheviki. It marched forward even when the forces were most disorganized by disaster. It always met argument with argument, honest doubt with proof of error. In fifty years it has never failed to send its representatives to plead our case before every constitutional convention although they went knowing that the prejudice they would meet was impregnable and the response ridicule and condemnation.

In all the years it has never paid a federal lobbyist and so far as I know no state has paid a legislative lobbyist. During the fifty years it has rarely had a salaried officer and even then she has been paid less than her earning capacity elsewhere. It has been an army of volunteers who have estimated no sacrifice too great, no service too difficult.

Ours has been a movement with a soul, a dauntless, unconquerable soul ever leading on. Women came, served and passed on, but others came to take their places while the same great soul was ever marching on through hundreds, nay a thousand years. A soul immortal directing, leading the women crusade for the liberation of the Mothers of the Race. That soul is here today and who shall say that all the hosts of the millions of women who have toiled and hoped and met delay are not here today and joining in the rejoicing that their cause at last, at last has won its triumph.

How do I pity the women who have had no share in the exaltation and the discipline of our army of workers. How do I pity those who have felt none of the grip of the oneness of women struggling, serving, suffering, sacrificing for the rightousness of woman's emancipation.

Women be glad today. Let your voices ring out the gladness in your hearts. There will never come another day like this. Let the joy be unconfined and let it speak so clearly that its echo will be heard around the world and find its way into the soul of every woman of any and every race and nationality who is yearning for opportunity and liberty still denied her sex.

PDF version