Carrie Chapman Catt

Presidential Address to NAWSA – Feb. 12, 1902

Carrie Chapman Catt
February 12, 1902— Washington, D.C.
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Catt delivered the president's annual address at the 34th annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D.C.

An International Woman Suffrage Conference deserves to be called "a new thing under the sun." It does not matter whether its immediate results shall prove to be important or insignificant, it stands as a milepost in the onward progress of a great cause, an unmistakable indication, too, which points in no uncertain manner to the heights beyond, where, without a question, the banner of equal rights for men and women will one day be planted.

Self-government for men, in its modern acceptance, is in itself a new thing. It is true there were so-called republics of great influence and power in the early centuries of Europe, but in every one the number of those who were authorized to exercise rights of citizenship was so limited, it is doubtful if they deserved the name. Self-government, based upon the broad claim of individual liberty and individual right, although its evolution may reach far back through the centuries, may justly be claimed as a new idea. The starting point of the modern movement was unquestionably the American Declaration of Independence. The world had been making long and unsuccessful preparation for the departure from old ideals. De Tocqueville, in writing of the American Republic, declared that "for seven centuries aristocracies and class privileges had been steadily dissolving,'' and John Stuart Mill added in comment, "The noble has been gradually going down on the social ladder and the commoner has been gradually going up. Every half century has brought them nearer to each other:" During the centuries in which the repressive customs of Feudalism were gradually receding into the past, while commerce was uniting more closely the destinies of Nations, while education was surely substituting understanding and reason for faith and superstition, while wars for conquest were becoming less common and periods of peace more frequent and of longer duration, there was slowly but steadily growing in the minds of men a self-respect, a self-reliance an individuality which would sooner or later ask why some men should be born to rule and others to obey. That question chanced to be formulated first by the American Colonists. Had the declaration not come from America it would have come elsewhere. The time was ripe for it and it came as a result a world movement and a world crisis, and not alone because England had been unjust. It came because the rank and file of men had begun to think, and because the glittering tinsel of royal courts, which had once served to hold subjects loyal, had grown transparent.

In ready response to growing intelligence and individualism the principle of self-government has been planted in every civilized nation of the world. Before the force of this onward movement the most cherished ideals of conservatism have fallen. Out of the ashes of the old, Phoenix-like, has arisen a new institution, vigorous and strong, yea, more, an institution which will live as long as long as men occupy the earth. The little band of Americans who initiated the modern movement would never have predicted that within a century "Taxation (of men) without representation is tyranny" would have been written into the fundamental law of all the monarchies of Europe, except Russia and Turkey, and that even there self-government should obtain in the municipalities. The most optimistic seer among them would not have prophesied that Mongolian Japan, then tightly shutting the gates against the commerce of the world and jealously guarding her ancient customs, would before the century closed have welcomed Western civilization and established universal suffrage for its men. He would not have dreamed that every inch of the great Continent of South America, then chiefly an unexplored region over which bands of savages roved at will, would be covered by written constitutions guaranteeing self-government to men inspired by Declarations of Independence similar to their own; that the settlements in Mexico and Central America and many islands of the Ocean would grow into republics, and least of all that the island Continent of Australia with its associates of New Zealand and Tasmania, then unexplored wildernesses, would become great democracies where self-government would be carried on with such enthusiasm, fervor and wisdom, that they would give lessons in methods and principles to all the rest of the world.

Yet it has come about in a hundred years that civilized nations are governed by the sovereign will of men instead of monarchs. It is true, Kings and Queens still occupy the thrones of Europe, but they are majestics robbed of the power over the and liberties of men which belonged to their predecessors, and the power behind every throne is the voice of the people. The monarchies of today still display something of the pomp and show and ceremonial of earlier times, but they are no longer offered in hope to cajole the people into loyalty. They are merely the symbols of power which remain after the power is gone and mean no more than the purple robes worn in the South Carolina Legislature. No careful observer can doubt that real monarchical and aristocratic power have gone forever. Wherever self-government for men exists, it will stay; and where it does not exist it will come.

True, modern democracy is received even yet with not a little skepticism. An English critic much quoted by American doubters, exclaims, "The government of the United States is not the result of democracy, but of the craftiest combination of schemes to defeat the will of democracy ever devised in the world." There are a considerable number of American who are in apparent accord with this belief. Not only do they cry, "democracy is a failure," but they enforce their opinions by doing nothing to make it a success.

If democracy is a failure, what then shall be the government of the future? Monarchy, or some form of aristocracy, alone remain to choose from. Will the future take one of these? Nay, for free schools and free thought, which have educated the commonest minds to new ideals, have rung the death knell of both. The evolution of society pointing to "governments of the people, by the people, and for the people" has made a steady march forward since the days of the English King John, and in all the centuries it has known no serious check. There can be no turning back now.

If it is true, as some would have us think, that the tyranny of empire has only been replaced by the tyranny of democracy which still represses and robs men of rights, it is still the duty of patriots to press ahead. If there are serious problems, intelligence and conscience will solve them. When Americans determine, as Americans will some day, to apply to the political problems which vex us, the intelligence and public spirit which has made this nation what it is, they will find a remedy for every ill, and democracy purified of its errors, will rise triumphant as the only ideal form of government. It does not matter that there are men who perceive rights still unattained, the majority of the civilized men of the world today stand upon a plane of security and power they have never known before and where they are free to carve out their own destiny. Not every individual is free to control his own life, but men as a whole are free to control the destiny of men as a whole. Every man possesses one ballot's share in each law, custom and condition which form the environment of his life. With this weapon of offense and defense he is armed to storm the heights beyond and to take the rights which should be his. While skeptics may sneer at the possibilities of pure politics and pessimists shake their heads in despair as they contemplate its problems, democracy moves triumphantly on, not only the government of the present and the undoubted government of the future, but the crowning attainment in the evolution of the Rights of Man.

Hard upon the track of the man suffrage movement presses the movement for woman suffrage, a logical step onward. It has come as inevitably and naturally as the flower unfolds from the bud, or the fruit develops from the flower. Why should woman suffrage not come? Men throughout the world hold their suffrage by the guarantee of the two principles of liberty, and for these reasons only: One, "Taxation without representation is tyranny," who dares deny it – and are not women taxed? The other, "Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." How simple and unanswerable that petition of justice! And are not women governed? These axioms have been translated into every tongue and thundered forth in eloquent plea in every civilized land. Before their logic the most cherished ancient prejudices have yielded, and can their logic fail at last?

More, many students of history, awed by the wonder of changing conditions, have expressed their observations in terse aphorisms which the world at large has adopted for its own, and these have put new and still more unanswerable logic into the mouths of our advocates.

"The future belongs to the book, not the sword; it belongs to life and not to death,'' pealed out the voice of Victor Hugo. The world nodded and exclaimed, "True, the sword is passing and the rule of the book is coming in." Then, we may ask, since woman may read the book and write the book, why should she have no share in the government of which the book stands the chief prop and support? And who can answer?

The President of Stanford University said: "The function of democracy is not to make governments good. It is to make man strong." The world approves and adds, that statement is the clearest possible definition of the differences between the old, when men existed for the government, and the new, when governments exist for men. But we may ask, if democracy means of making men strong, is there any good reason for keeping women weak, that we should deny them the same chance to grow strong?

Balzac makes a character say: "Empires began with the sword and ended with the inkstand; we have reached the inkstand" and the world cries "good!" But, we ask, since women may dip judgment and wisdom from that inkstand upon their pen points, why should they have no share in an empire based upon the inkstand?

Said Ingersoll: "The method of the settlement of disputes is the chief test of civilization. It began with a contest of clubs and ended with a plea before a jury and a judge" and the lawyers say "True." Then if the woman in her cap and gown may make the plea before the jury, why should she not make the law she expounds?

A campaigner in the recent New York municipal campaign plead eloquently with the women to lend their aid. Said he: "It is the proud duty of the women of this City to advise men how to vote, since they have more time than men to intelligently learn to comprehend the situation," and every Low follower echoed: True!" But, if women are competent to teach men how to vote, why may they not vote themselves? These are the arguments the world has put into our mouths. Their logic can no more be disputed than can that of the multiplication table. Surely, the world cannot long withstand the force of it!

The question of woman suffrage is a very simple one. The plea is dignified, calm and logical. Yet, great as is the victory over conservatism which is represented in the accomplishment of man suffrage, infinitely greater will be the attainment of woman suffrage. Man suffrage exists through the surrender of many a stronghold of ancient thought, deemed impregnable, yet these obstacles were the veriest Don Quixote windmills compared with the opposition which has stood arrayed against woman suffrage.

Woman suffrage must meet precisely the same objections which have been urged against man suffrage, but in addition, it must combat sex-prejudice, the oldest, the most unreasoning, the most stubborn of all human idiosyncrasies. What is prejudice? An opinion, which is not based on reason; a judgment, without having hear the argument; a feeling, without being able to trace from whence it came. And sex-prejudice is a pre-judgment against the right, liberties and opportunities of women. A belief, without proof, in the incapacity of women to o that which they have never done. Sex-prejudice has been the chief hindrance in the rapid advance of the woman's rights movement to its present status, and it is still a stupendous obstacle to be overcome.

In the United States, at least, we need no longer argue woman's intellectual, moral and physical qualification for the ballot with the intelligent. The Reason of the best of our citizens has long been convinced. The justice of the argument has been admitted, but sex-prejudice is far from conquered.

When a great church official exclaims petulantly, that if women are not more modest in their demands men may be obliged to take to drowning female infants again; when a renowned United States Senator declares no human being can find an answer to the arguments for woman suffrage, but with all the force of his position and influence he will oppose it; when a popular woman novelist speaks of the advocates of the movement as the "shrieking sisterhood," when a prominent politician says "to argue against woman suffrage is to repudiate the Declaration of Independence," yet he hopes it may never come, the question flies entirely outside the domain of reason, and retreats within the realm of sex-prejudice, where neither logic nor common sense can dislodge it.

Sex-prejudice is the chief tower and fortress of the opposition to equal rights for women, and we may ask from whence came this sex-prejudice? Why does it control the universal understanding? Is there a real foundation for the belief? Are women in reality, inevitably, and permanently the inferiors of men?

Sex-prejudice is the outgrowth of a theory practically universal throughout the world for many centuries past. It may be briefly stated as a belief that men were the units of the human race. They performed the real functions of the race; all the responsibilities and duties of working out the destiny of the race were theirs. Women were auxiliaries, or dependents, with no responsibilities of their own. In the perpetuation of the race the contribution of the mother was negative and insignificant; that of the father vital and all-important. A favorite figure among writers for several centuries was the comparison of the father of the race to the seed, and the mother of the race to the soil. Man was considered the real creator of the race. Grant Allen states fairly the belief which dominated the thought of the world for many centuries when he said that women were simply "told off" for the express purpose of procreation, in the same manner as are drones in a hive of bees, and have no other place in society.

The world rarely enquires into the origin of a universal belief. It proceeds upon the theory that "whatever is, is right," and the very fact of the universality of any belief is accepted as a sufficient guarantee of its truth. Such a belief becomes a blind faith. Its defenses is not reason, but feeling.

Add to a universal belief of this character, of which no one knows the origin, a supposed Divine authority for its existence, and it becomes well-nigh unmovable. The wildest fanaticisms of the race have been aroused through appeals to this kind of unreason. Curiously enough, whenever an unreasoning belief of this kind has been questioned humanity has invariably claimed Divine authority for it, and often without the slightest grounds. It has been quoted in support of every departing theory from the flatness of the earth to human slavery, and has been hurled in defiance at the advocates of every new discovery from the printing press to the administration of chloroform. Such a belief has been the basis of the theory that man is the race and woman is the dependent. To question its authority or truth was considered for centuries a sacrilege and a blasphemy and consequently all honest investigation into its truth was forestalled at the beginning.

The subordination of women is directly traceable to this theory. Every repressive law and custom concerning them is an outgrowth of it and all opposition to the rights of women receives its strength from the surviving remains of it. Four chief causes led to the subjection of women, each the logical deduction from the theory that men were the units of the race—obedience, ignorance, the denial of personal liberty, and the denial of right to property and wages. These forces united in cultivating a spirit of egotism and tyranny in men and weak dependence in women. The details of their enforcement have filled the pages of history with records of cruelty and tragedy which form the saddest commentary upon the ignorance and superstition of past centuries. The sickening details of the brutality which accompanied the enforcement of obedience and the denial of personal liberty upon women, surpasses all understanding. In fastening these disabilities upon women, the world acted logically when reasoning from the premise that man is the race and woman his dependent. The perpetual tutelage and subjection robbed women of all freedom of thought and action, and all incentive for growth, and they logically became the inane weaklings the world would have them, and their condition strengthened the universal belief in their incapacity. This world taught women nothing skillful and then said her work was valueless. It permitted her no opinions and then said she did not know how to think. It forbade her to speak in public, and said the sex had no orators. It robbed her of every vestige of responsibility, and then called her weak. It taught her that every pleasure must come as a favor from men, and when to gain it she decked herself in paint and fine feathers, as she had been taught to do, it called her vain.

This was the woman enshrined in literature. She was immortalized in song and story. Chivalry paid her fantastic compliments. As Diderot said, "when woman is the theme, the pen must be dipped in the rainbow and the pages must be dried with a butterfly's wing." Surrounded by a halo of this kind of mysticism woman was encouraged to believe herself adored. This woman who was pretty, coquettish, affectionate, obedient, self effacive, now gentle and meek, now furious and emotional, always ignorant, weak and silly, became the ideal woman of the world.

When at last the New Woman came, bearing the torch of truth and with calm dignity asked a share in the world's education, opportunities and duties, it is no wonder these untrained weaklings should have shrunk away in horror. As a French writer (Claviere) in speaking of the women of the middle ages, says: "It might be supposed that married women, handed over like so many sheep, would pitifully cry out against their sacrifice. But such was not the case; humanity is so constituted that, sunk in abject slavery, with no glimpse of anything beyond, it will hug its chains, while the more freedom it enjoys, the keener grows its appetite for freedom." Nor was it any wonder that man should arise to defend the woman of the past, whom he had learned to love and cherish. Her very weakness and dependence were dear to him and he loved to think of her as the clinging vine, while he was the strong and sturdy oak. He had worshiped her ideal through the age of chivalry as thou she were a goddess, but he had governed her as though she were an idiot. Without the slightest comprehension of the inconsistency of his position, he believed this relation to be in accordance with God's command.

The fate of the woman question turns upon the truth or falsity of the premise from which the world has reasoned throughout the ages past. If the ancient premise is true, the problem is a complicated one. If it is false, then nothing but prejudice can stand in the way of the fullest individual liberty for women. Women are either inferior to men, or they are not.

Von Baer, a German scientist, pricked the bubble of the fallacy that "man is the race" in 1827 when he demonstrated that father and mother contribute equally to the physical, mental and moral characteristics of their children. This discovery was received reluctantly by scientists, but the fact is no longer questioned by those competent to judge. What a flood of light it throws upon the problem. In the perpetuation of the race the function of motherhood is not the negative, insignificant thing it was once thought, but equal in importance with fatherhood. More, as the race obeys that sill higher law which compels humanity to climb onward and upward to newer ideals and nobler conceptions, the hereditary traits of each generation come equally from the father and mother. Can it be that Nature is so poor an economist that she commands the mother of the race to infuse into posterity half its efficacy and then denies her equal efficiency with the father of the race? It is unthinkable.

If we find woman inferior to man we must find the reason not in her natural endowment, but in the environment which warped her growth. But religion, say the doubters, the Word of God, the Creator of all, and Guide of all human destiny, commands the subjection of women and this could not be true if she were not a natural dependent. True, the sacred word of the four great religious systems of the world commands obedience and subjection, the Christian Scriptures according to common interpretation no less than the others. The Christian world is finding itself in much the position of the minister in Wyoming, who after an election in which the contest had been fairly fought between the moral and immoral elements of the town, and morality had won clearly because of the votes of women, gave a hearty prayer of thanksgiving in his prayer meeting, in which he fervently pleaded in defense of his attitude of mind, "O Lord, we have not forgotten Paul. We remember all he said. But O God, we do not know what he meant. Surely it was not this!" Every father who has permitted a liberal education to his daughter has violated the Pauline law, for she will not ''ask her husband at home" that which she knows as well herself. Every minister who has permitted a woman's voice in his choir, or in his prayer meeting, and every church which has ordained a woman has violated the command that women shall ''keep silence in the churches," and more, every church which permits a Woman's Aid Society to raise the money to pay the minister's salary and the church debts, violates the command to subjection. Every minister who is importuning women members to follow the example of theatre attendants and remove their bonnets is violating the command of St. Paul that women should not "pray with uncovered heads." In fact, the women in the more intelligent classes of Christendom are no longer in subjection. The Pauline commands are forgotten, and verily in each violation, the world "does not know what he meant, but surely not this."

lt is only brought forward now to oppose the political emancipation for women because it is the only freedom asked for which has not yet been gained. It remains for future students to discover why the commands are there; whether they were interpolated by later centuries, as has been claimed, or whether they may be "explained away." However, one thing is certain, and that is that all the Christian world will some day reach the point occupied by many Christians today where it will see that any Scripture that commands one class of human beings to remain in perpetual tutelage to another, which commends that one human being from birth owes obedience to another, does not represent Divine Will. Instead, such command is on a plane with the understanding of justice in barbaric ages, and is shocking to modern human ideals. How little then can it represent the Divine conception which must be all-wise and all-just!

Nevertheless, the apparent Biblical endorsement of the subjection of women weighed mightily in the balance against all liberty for women for fully eighteen hundred years. Ah, the pity of it! What a cruel mistake it all seems to have been! We may well paraphrase Madame celebrated utterance and say, "O, religion, what crimes have been committed in thy name!"

We are told these subjected earlier women were content. No doubt, content like the imprisoned bird which sings in its cage in forgetfulness of the freedom which is its birthright. But how quickly these imprisoned ones learn to lift their wings and to fly when the bars are no longer there! Throughout the ages, when for any reason the tutelage over them grew lenient, when ever so little encouragement was given them, these women grew, and unfolded and blossomed, until like the lilies of the field, they the air with the fragrance of their well doing.

We find them teaching in universities, practicing medicine, writing books and governing empires under the ameliorating influence of the Revival of Learning, and the petition of one lady in 1555 has been preserved, who in true "Twentieth Century" fashion, implored "virtuous ladies to raise their minds a little above their distaffs and their spindles. The hour has now struck," says she, "when man can no longer shackle the honest liberty which our sex has so long yearned for." How many sorrowful souls longed for better things and beat their wings in pitiful struggle against the bars of their life prisons we may never know, for the historians were men. As few men today comprehend even faintly the depths of humiliation and anguish of the awakened woman who comprehends her restrictions, how much less could the historians of that day have cared for the experiences of women they believed to be born to perpetual dependence. It matters little, however, whether the woman of the past was contented or restless. The chief injury of her subjection did not come to her but to the race. No people can rise higher than its source and we now know that source is men and women, not men alone. The punishment of belittled motherhood comes unerringly to every people. There was once a time when China had free women, hut their freedom was gradually stolen under the cover of the mandates of Confucius. China subjected its women more than any other people since she dwarfed their feet as well as their minds, and with the weight of this enslaved motherhood hanging like a millstone about its neck, the nation has stood for hundreds of years. They say commerce, railroads, and liberal ideas might yet save her from the final downfall which seems threatening. These would help, doubtless, but the one remedy which could bring back the breath of life, and start her climbing upward on the ladder of civilization once more would be freedom for the women who are the mothers of China.

If the punishment of the subjection of women is certain, the reward for liberality is equally sure. There are doubtless many reasons for the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon race, but none more important than the fact that the Anglo-Saxons have permitted their women a larger individuality and independence than any other people.

In fact, if we would give to the world races fitted to solve the mighty problems time is bringing, we must begin by shattering the old fallacy that man is the race and woman his subject. That the subjection of motherhood operates to the injury of the race is a fact which must be cried from the house tops. It must be taught in schools and colleges. It must be sent with every band of Christian missionaries to be taught as their first precept We must educate and agitate, agitate and educate until a full understanding of the race responsibility of motherhood shall have reach the remotest man and woman.

The Confucians have a proverb that "a woman owes three obediences: first to her father, second to her husband, and after his death to her son." It is but a little time when this might have been claimed as the proverb of all peoples, for it represented the world's conception of the just and natural relation of the sexes. At no period in her life did the woman gain her freedom.

The whole aim of the woman movement has been to destroy the idea that obedience is necessary to women: to train women to such self-respect that they would not grant obedience and to train men to such comprehension of equity they would not exact it. The movement has traveled far when the world concedes the new opportunities which are now so freely offered. Education extends its hope to women in the remotest quarters of the globe. Even the prejudices of Mohammedans and Buddhists have yielded sufficiently to permit graduated physicians among the women of their religion. Occasional women in China and Japan are college educated. Women are beginning to realize among all people that self-abnegation is no more the duty of women than of men. They are learning that self-development and self-reliance are obligations equally imposed upon both. In every quarter of the globe the old theory is showing signs of dissolution.

As John Stuart Mill said in speaking of the conditions which preceded the enfranchisement of men: "The noble has been gradually going down on the social ladder and the commoner has been gradually going up. Every half century has brought them nearer to each other;" so we may say, for the past five hundred years, man as the dominant power in the world has been going down the ladder and woman has been climbing up. Every decade has brought them nearer together. The opposition to the enfranchisement of women is the last defense of the old theory that obedience is necessary for women, because man alone is the creator of the race.

The whole effort of the woman movement has been to destroy obedience of woman in the home. That end has been very generally attained, and the average civilized woman enjoys the right of individual liberty in the home of her father, her husband, and her son. The individual woman no longer obeys the individual man. She enjoys self-government in the home and in society. The question now is, shall all women as a body obey all men as a body? Shall the woman who enjoys the right of self-government in every other department of life be permitted the right of self-government in the State? It is no more right for all men to govern all women than it was for one man to govern one woman. It is no more right for men to govern women than it was for one man to govern other men.

A little more than a century ago men asked, "why are some men born to rule and others to obey?" The world answered by making sovereigns of those who had been subjects, and now we ask, "Why are men born to rule and women to obey?" There is but one answer and that is, to lift the subject woman to the throne by the side of the sovereign man.

A milepost marking vast progress is an International Woman Suffrage Conference, with nine Nations sending official delegates, while fourteen Nations have well-defined woman suffrage movements. Our question is clearly International in its scope and object. Sex-prejudice, with the old scientific blunder for its basis; sex-prejudice with its unreason and its intolerance, is our common enemy. We must win by the use of the same arguments, the same appeals to justice. We shall hope that the deliberations of the Conference will result in some form of International Alliance which will hasten the day when the women of all civilized Nations will possess the right of self-government in the home, the church and the State. We shall at least learn to know each other and join hands in fraternal helpfulness. That the old doctrine of obedience will be entirely obliterated, both for the individual woman in her home, and women as a whole in the State, among all the peoples of the world, is a certain as the rising of the sun tomorrow.

Yet before the attainment of equal rights for men and women there will be years of struggle and disappointment. We of a younger generation have taken up the work where our noble and consecrated pioneers left it. We in turn are enlisted for life and generations yet unborn will take up the work where we lay it down. So through centuries if need be the education will continue, until a regenerated race of men and women who are equal before God and man shall control the destinies of the earth. It will be the proud duty of the new International Alliance, if one shall be formed, to extend its helping hand to the women of every nation and every people and its completed duty will not have been performed until the last vestige of the old obedience of one human being to another shall have been destroyed." God give is wisdom and courage to face the disappointment and the struggle of the contest, and above all, God grant us the patience and tolerance for our opponents.

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