Carrie Chapman Catt

The Three I's - 1924

Carrie Chapman Catt
January 01, 1924
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This speech was delivered more than once. However, the copy we have is from 1924.


Carrie Chapman Catt

It is particularly important at this time that women should keep their heads and their clearest common sense on the watch tower. It is important for two reasons: first, these usually dependable guardians of national and international welfare, seem to be everywhere off duty and second, this is our day and it behooves us to give a good account of our trust. It is in this particular instant, in a million or more years that man has occupied this earth that the law of evolutionary progress has issued its command to women all the world around to step out from under the traditions and tutelage of past ages and to march forward to new duties in uncharted, unexplored fields. Women of all races and religions, here and there, isolated and alone, have dreamt of a time when women would come into their own – come back to the equality of which they have been robbed. A woman spoke – perhaps in old China and a century passed; another spoke, perhaps in Spain; another century passed and another women’s voice was lifted, perhaps in ancient India. So the centuries passed and the women with these dreams came oftener. At last they were numerous enough to make a group and in time the group became a crusade and now we, in this moment of time, may say that what once lay in “the imaginations of women” long forgotten now rests “in the recollections” of this, our generation.

Do you remember, when in 1914, only ten years ago, the Federation passed its resolution endorsing woman suffrage, that it was a decidedly controversial subject and that there were many who doubted the wisdom of that act? Do you remember how grateful working suffragists were for the new impetus the resolution gave our common cause? Do you remember that there were many men and women then who believed that another state would never be won, that the highest watermark of the movement had been reached? One must go back to those days in order to estimate how far we have come and why it is our day. It was only a year later, in 1915, that a nationally known lawyer, a really great man, made a speech at an anti-suffrage meeting. It was not more ignorant, nor more illogical than many at that time. I quote it merely as a sample. Said he: “There’s a little black cloud slowly rising on the horizon. It’s the cloud of social unrest/ Back of it is the whirlwind. The rumblings of thunder and the flashes of lightning are feminism, with all the hideous propaganda, socialism and Mormonism.”

A prominent Club woman, perhaps as great in her line as the lawyer was great in his, at that same date, made a presentation in verse of the anti-woman’s point of view. I quote it also merely as a sample.

“I do not want to vote.
Of that just make a not;
It would not seem one-half so nice to me,
As just the sweet old way,
Of making men obey,
And holding them in gentle custody.

I’m fornist the methods used,
Our old customs thus abused,
The mania for public speech and rant.
I don’t see why my kind,
Can’t stay at home and mind
Their own concerns – upon my word I can’t.”

If men could voice such petty incomprehension of the vast processes of evolving humanity and women could feel such smug irresponsible selfishness in our country only nine years ago, what depths of black ignorance and prejudice must have enveloped the minds of men and women in lands of less democratic development.

Then came the war. It was war; thousands of years of war that stole the property and livery of women and reduced them to a status of utter serfdom from which they slowly and painfully had emerged and in all nations were struggling back to freedom when the Great War came. In thirty-two nations the armies were mobilized, millions of men, armies so vast that Alexander or Caesar or Napoleon would have gasped and not a man joining his colors heard the faintest hint that the supreme sacrifice he might make was for the liberty of women. Not a general issuing his commands dreamt that women would benefit from the triumph of his army. Not an orator all the world around, exhorting his people to patriotic faith in the “glorious aims” of his nation, said aught of women’s hopes. Not a woman bending over the sick beds of wounded soldiers from the Themes to the Volga, or sewing, knitting, serving the Red Cross, or selling bonds at home, thought of any reward for their sex. Yet, so infinitely vaster than the comprehension of man are the ways of God, that the greatest thing that came out of the war was the emancipation of women, for which no man fought. War subjected women and war liberated them. Perhaps it is evidence of the truth of the homeopathic theory that “like cures like”.

Certainly in all history no change, so fundamental, has been achieved in so brief a time. Woman suffrage was no miracle in this and several other countries, but the vote came to women in lands where the suffrage movement was small and timid and where there was no movement at all. There are only sixty-four nations in the world with the right to enfranchise citizens. Do you realize that when the war began women voted on equal terms with men in only four nations and in eleven states of our own country and that now women vote on equal terms with men in twenty-six countries and have municipal suffrage in six others, thus establishing women suffrage in half of the nations of the world? The latest victories are municipal suffrage for women in Spain and the City of Constantinople, and full suffrage in the province of Mysore, India. Thus Catholic, Mohammedan and Hindoo lands have caught step with the now unchallenged world around emancipation of a sex. (Story of Egyptian delegate and Egyptian women at their Parliament.)

Indeed, I have to pinch myself occasionally in order to sense the fact that the world I now live in is the same world I did live in in 1914. Knowing the suffrage movement in our own country and at least twenty others fairly well, I am yet amazed a bit and bewildered at the momentum, the unconquerable force of this movement. Verily, that great philosopher, Victor Hugo, pronounced an immortelle when he said “There is one thing greater than kings or armies, the idea whose time to move has come.” I ask myself if there may not be something more – a divine purpose in the surprising suddenness of the sweeping liberation of women on every side. I seem to read the answer on all sides – “Yes, yes, a purpose there is.”

When war comes idealism possesses the spirit of the people. No matter what the real cause for a war may be, every people believes it is fighting for some great and glorious principle. It is the way men dupe themselves into a justification for war. When war ends, idealism slips behind the horizon like a setting sun and men grope their way through a twilight of doubt. As an old Quaker said, “War scattereth all things”. Disintegration, faithlessness, and pessimism are the natural, unfailing aftermath of all wars. War lifts the people up to the mountains of hope, abnormal, unnatural hope, and the following peace tumbles them helter skelter down the sides into the slough of pessimism, abnormal, unnatural pessimism. Expediency, procrastination and fear are the motives of the hour. Yet, “where there is no vision, the people perish.” There is no progress, there is no stability, without the stimulation of idealism. So, I say to you in the words of Mordecai to Esther “And who knoweth whether thou art come to the Kingdom for such a time as this”. Faith is still alive in the programs of women’s organizations, idealism is still talked among women. There are four immediate issues praying for national action that are, I believe supported by from 75 to 90% of the membership of women’s organizations. They are (1) The Federal Educational Bill (2) The Child Labor Amendment (3) The Enforcement of law and (4) The Peace of the World. They are all ideal, but practical sensible proposals of progress. They aim at the welfare of the nation. They are long sighted, logical, crucial and certainly, the four most important issues before our people. They are supported by men, but quite clearly the largest and most empathetic demand comes from women. It is around these issues that idealism has met in combat the spirit of fear, hopelessness and procrastination, that is the usual after war phychology. Then what of the day? Clearly women will be drawn into the current of disintegration and drift aimlessly with it, or the organizations must draw closer together and unitedly make their vision so strong and militant, that it will reinspire the nation with its old confidence in itself and its progress. Is it too much to say that woman enfranchised has come into the Republic for such a time as this? Think – 5,000,000 illiterate there are in this nation where universal suffrage obtains – 3,000,000 of them are native born Americans. In the draft one man in every four could not write a letter or read a newspaper in English. Each illiterate or near illiterate is a millstone around the neck of democracy. Is it not the task of women who have struggled for a hundred years to get equal rights for education, first to get their little daughters into the rural schools, then the older ones into the high schools, then the grown-ups into the colleges, to join in a more insistent demand for all? For a century women’s clubs have heard the plea made in her own behalf and little by little the idealism, the imperative necessity of education has been drummed into their very souls. It is now a reserve, a Teapot dome as it were, to be tapped for the nation’s good. May we not have been called for this?

Think – 1,060,858 child workers here are between the ages of 10 and 15 (1920 census), the children of mothers who have gone down into the shadow of death to bring them into the world, children robbed of education and health building play. “Stay home and take care of your children” – they used to tell us. Has not One greater than man bade us to reach out of the home and take care of the world’s neglected, mistreated children? “Bring up your children to be fit for the world” – they used to say. Has it not become the business of mothers to make the world a fit place for children?

Think – Great men in high places are saying with a new insistence, “Let the Prohibition Law be repealed”. Why? Because the law is wrong? No, because it cannot be enforced”. Do you realize that the law is part of our constitution, the fundamental law of our land and that these men when they say the law cannot be enforced are admitting a governmental impotence which, if true, threaten the very life of the nation? The truth is that many men find the law personally inconvenient and they set up a false logic that the thief imitates when he says, “I’ll take that man’s purse – the law is not enforced”. “Thou shalt not kill” is 2,000 years old, yet every day a murder is recorded. “Thou shalt not steal” is the law of the savage and civilized, yet bandits and highwaymen, hold ups and common thefts are of every day occurrence. “Take prohibition away”, says President Butler. “It has been tried for four years and it cannot be enforced”. A policeman on the East Side of the same City in response to a query said, “Why every policeman around her will tell you that the children wear shoes now who never had any before prohibition.” What is the trouble with prohibition is that national morality has slumped. What is needed is not a surrender to the violators of law, but the application of an insistent militant morality. Shall we not read out of our list of friends the woman with a still in her cellar and a recipe for home brew in her kitchen, the lad who carries a bottle in his pocket, the girl who, between dances, takes a drink from it, the mothers who don’t care. Undisciplined appetite vs shoes – which shall we support? I had nothing whatever to do with the winning of prohibition but I do know the law got into the constitution by normal and democratic processes, so I have taken a vow never to vote for any legislator in state or nation, governor or president, who has so wet a mind that he will be tempted to leniency toward violation of law, no matter what promises he may have made for enforcement. May we not have been called to the Kingdom to support with our votes the mothers of children with shoes?

Think – women were subjugated to an unbelievable degradation by war, they have been liberated by war. May they not have been called into the Kingdom to make an end of this greatest of all crimes?

Yet, the woman voter, determined to uphold idealism, finds herself balked by very definite and stubborn handicaps. They stand between her and the achievement of these four aims, between her and her ideals of government. These handicaps are no new comers in the realm of politics. They have entangled the feet of men from the beginning. Whenever and wherever a man or woman has had a vision of the betterment of the race, these forces, like demons from below, have risen to throw stones, mud and garbage at the one with a dream in his soul and to throw lies, big black lies, to the masses to whom the new welfare is promised.

I call these handicaps the problem of the “Three I’s” – indifference, ignorance and inefficiency and the greatest of these is ignorance. These three are the nation’s and the world’s greatest enemies. They rise to full command after wars. They drive growing children from the playground into factories; they keep children out of school and put three out of every five teachers in the classroom with insufficient training; they lead men and women and children to violate law, no prohibition, but the law of Moses and the laws of God – all law; they drive nations to war. Is there no remedy? Yes, it is the persistent, logical, militant application of idealism. There is no human so lost to all human qualities, that there is not an atom, somewhere within him capable of responding to idealism with its component factors of love, kindness, justice. There is no nation so lost in the wrangling conflicts of the aftermath of war, that it will not quiet, become reasonable and return to constructive thinking in response to idealism. Urgent, persistent idealism is the only panacea for ignorance and indifference and these two create inefficiency. There are those who scoff at idealists and idealism. It has been idealists who have led humanity from the beginning up to the present. Idealists will lead on toward a future whose civilization is as far above that of the present as this is above that of the cave man. There is a Divine law of evolutions calm and unshaken as the law of gravitation. It knows no pause and idealists have been the evolvers. Idealists move forward; their opponents pull back. Idealists are insurgent, their opposite are standpatters. Idealism is positive, tis opposite negative. So positive is idealism that the only opposite given in the dictionary is “want of intellect”. Want of intellect is destructive, emotional, illogical, impractical. Idealism is constructive, dispassionate, logical and practical. Behind these qualities, which are needful to the adjustment of present day disturbances and progress onward, lies the ideal, the vision, without which “the people perish”. Verily, women have come into the Kingdom with lamps trimmed and burning and with vision in their soul. The vision of women can build a new world or remake an old

Speech cuts off here with the lower right-hand corner ripped and words missing.

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