Carrie Chapman Catt

The Maine Campaign - 1915

Carrie Chapman Catt
September 17, 1915
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The Maine Campaign


I would like to make a confidential report concerning the Maine campaign. A Republican member from that state told Mrs. Roessing last year that the Republican Party would like to put a suffrage bill through in order that they might have the benefit of women’s vote in enforcing prohibition. The state is, as all the world knows, Republican. We inquired of the state workers the truth of this statement and learned that the State Association had asked every legislature for many years to submit an amendment and had met with increasing support. They had begun interviewing candidates and thought they had a chance. Just before their annual convention last October, two officers wrote me to ask if the National approved a referendum in Maine. I replied with emphasis that it did not; that if the Republican Party would really back the campaign, if a campaign fund of $6,000 was in sight with which to begin, if five or six women, able, trained and congenial, would swear to devote themselves to the campaign from beginning to end and if they could have two years too work, it might be well to go ahead, but unless all these conditions could be fulfilled, we strongly advised against it and I begged hard that they would not bring on another defeat with which to handicap the movement.

The annual convention in October and a lengthy, animated discussion pro and con took place. My letters were read and a few delegates protested, but the women said they had gone too far to retreat and never having been in a campaign, they declared that victory was sure. In answer to the question as to how many women would give themselves to the campaign, sixteen arose and enthusiastically amid cheers pledged their services. The convention voted to have a campaign and when the cheers subsided began it by raising the grand sum of $500. Despite our protests we did our utmost to co-operate and help. The Association wanted Mrs. Livingston for campaign chairman, and as she is self-supporting, we paid her a salary in order to make it possible for her to work. I believe there was no one in the state who could have done so well. She is an able speaker, and has a wide acquaintance in club, church, W.C.T.U., Y.M.C.A. and suffrage circles. She has more connections of this sort than any woman I know. The only mistake made in the campaign so far as I know arose in the organization of a campaign committee consisting of representatives of all organizations favorable to suffrage. As the suffrage association had only fourteen clubs this seemed wise and we recommend it. With its organization an approach was at once secured to every town in the state. The Suffrage Association, the W.C.T.U., the Grange, the Federation of Clubs, Men’s League were all members of it. The President seemed to agree to it and gave no hint of opposition or disapproval until the Committee was formed. I do not think she did disapprove, but Mrs. Livingston admitted to the Committee an organization called the Referendum League which was formed expressly to help the referendum and whose president was a C.U. woman. She was about the best worker in the campaign and as she promised to desist absolutely from C.U. work during the campaign, she could not be refused fellowship in the Committee. Her admission however, started an antagonism to Mrs. Livingston so narrow and so silly that I have not been able to comprehend it. It was confined to Portland I believe/ Mrs. Livingston wisely kept away from that city, but the work suffered there. The President utterly repudiated the campaign and did not even attend the annual convention at the close when new officers were elected.

Only two of those sixteen women who pledged service all the way through, kept their promise. I do not know that in any case, except that of the president and her best friend, was this due to the disaffection created by the appointment to the Committee of Mrs. Whitehouse. This was the only serious problem in the campaign.

The bill did not get through the Legislature until February and the vote was September 10th leaving five months only for the campaign. The campaign was exceptionally good. The state has only sixteen counties. Eleven had each an organizer for the last six weeks and 269 local committees were formed in as many towns. Many committees were defective as they were untrained and the campaign was too short to train them. They did not do as much as they might.

The argument for suffrage was never put before the voters of any state quite so thoroughly. The voters were circularized with the Shafroth Speech and again with “Have you heard the news?” which carried the newest appeal of the suffrage gains all the world around. In the same envelope was a printed petition to the voters of the county in which the voter resided, signed by the women of his county. In these petitions there was better proof than any state has given that women want the vote. South Dakota had the petitions in several counties and every one carried, but Maine had them in every county. House to house distribution of fliers was made in several communities/ A million and a half leaflets were distributed, or ten to every voter in the state. The clergy were circularized three times, the State Grange twice, the committees or the political parties and the Legislature twice.

About 500 meetings were held. An ex-chairman of the Democratic Central Committee, a strong man spoke and worked for the amendment. The President appealed to the Democrats by letter. The Governor, a weak, but extremely popular man spoke for it, but the two party machines were against it. Mrs. Livingston herself made 150 addresses and raised $4,000. I know of no woman except Miss Shaw who is a more compelling speaker.

The Press work was fair but ought to have been better. A supplement was enclosed in newspapers in the last week which reached 50,000 subscribers and in Bangor was distributed house to house.

The cost of the campaign was $23,422.11 of which considerably more than half was contributed from the outside. No important recognized means of campaigning was overlooked and several features were remarkably well done.

The campaigns of Colorado and Idaho cost $1,800 each. The campaign of the big state of California in 1896, the best and most enthusiastic up to that time cost $16,000. All the state was carried except the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento. What then was wrong in Maine? The vote was nearly two to one against although 100,000 voters did not vote. 38,000 women asked for the vote and only 19,000 men answered, “Yes”. It is clear that men did not vote as their wives “told them to” nor was it the voice of the people. The war is very absorbing and doubtless many brains cannot consider two subjects at one time. Many women laid aside suffrage work and took up Red Cross work. ‘The Pickets” were an ever present excuse and a Congressman in a speech in Washington said that they and they alone furbished the cause for defeat.

The opponents conducted a campaign of vituperation. If we distributed much literature, they distributed as much. How far their lies impressed the people who did not know much about the cause I have no idea. McLean of Iowa and Maling of Col were there and worked as usual. The anti-women were there but there did not seem to be many at the last. Mrs. Wadsworth made a visit to Maine, but did not make much public impression. I think the politicians promised the use of the machines and the anti-women went home knowing they had won.

The state is slow and conservative and the argument put forth for our side will arrive at its destination in a couple of years probably. It didn’t have time to take effect. Yet when all the facts of the campaign are lined up for an against, I do not find the balance a satisfactory explanation of the vote. There seems to have been some sinister influence behind it; yet to offset this suspicion is the astounding fact that 150,000 men voted last year and 50,000 only this year. The only conclusion I can draw is that no one of us knows how to win a state. We have proceeded along similar lines in Iowa, South Dakota, West Virginia and been bowled over every time. One incident may solve the riddle. The sixteen women who precipitated the campaign with enthusiasm and irresponsibly left it in the lurch are responsible for the fact that the National is left with the “bag to hold”. Wholly new women are now the officers and these didn’t bring on the campaign. There was a deficit of about $1,000 which has been paid by the Leslie Commission. They compelled us to give up $14,000 good money and took a big share of our time and energy. More, they are responsible for the loss of morale in the New York army because of discouragement through the Maine defeat.

Where our side is ever changing, ever irresponsible, the opposition has a group of people who from state to state and seem to know how. I am confident they control in some way the local political leaders who get out the vote they can influence. Quite likely they may be won by terrible tales of “petticoat government” told behind closed doors. Or they may be paid, which I am inclined to this is the solution nearest the truth. Yet a bone dry measure was submitted at the same time and squeezed through. There was no campaign for it at all. Under these circumstances what can we do? Must we keep on indefinitely fighting, giving and losing? Who holds the key to the situation? Shall we find it in Michigan, in South Dakota or in Nebraska? That is the question we are here to discuss.

I beg to submit herewith Mrs. Livingston’s report and also a letter from the ex-Chairman of the Democratic State Committee and also a clipping setting forth the opinion of the Chairman of the Men’s League.

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