Carrie Chapman Catt

Only Yesterday - 20 July 1933

Carrie Chapman Catt
July 20, 1933— Palmer House, Chicago, IL
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“ONLY YESTERDAY”

Banquet – Palmer House, Chicago, July 20, 1933

Congress, Representative Women

The program Committee has given me a pretty, poetic subject and told me to bring you a message out of the past. I belong to a generation going out. You represent one coming in. Perhaps the Committee pictured venerable age telling sweet little stories to youth, sitting at her knee. Alas, I am a grandmother of sterner type and I remind you that whatever civilization becomes in the next fifty years, through progress or reaction, gains or losses, it will be through the collective responsibility of your generation.

Could we come into the world knowing as much as we think we know when we go out, the coming civilization might be a “whizz.” Alas, we have to acquire our equipment after we get here and probably the movements of civilization will be poky in the future as in the past.

We are now attending the third great national exposition, but we do so in the midst of the most serious financial distress our country has ever suffered.

Another exposition is coming. Its date is 1976, when our nation will surely celebrate its second centennial birthday.

These questions concerning the woman movement are not so serious as the first question, but they have a meaning which, upon reflection, you will readily comprehend.

A man, giving a review of Mrs. Irwin’s book, “Angels and Amazons,” last week declared: “The feminine mentality is naturally bound up with feeling, whereas that of man rests more directly upon reason… If the anti-feminists are right, the success of the woman’s movement, fostered as it has been by the economic trend, may be justly regarded as one of the major tragedies in the history of mankind.” This man may be considered a hangover from ancient times, but, doubtless, there are many more like him.

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…stimulation. For three years authors and writers united in flooding the country with eulogistic comments upon the young nation’s meritorious achievements, not forgetting to mention the truly heroic super-people who lived in this country.

At midnight, on New Year’s eve of 1876, hundreds of towns and villages welcomed the Centennial Year in noisy, patriotic ceremonies. The Declaration of Independence was now brought out and read in every celebration. When heard or unheard, it was always uproariously applauded. Under the application of this beautiful oratory, the pride of men mounted higher and higher, while the humiliation of women sunk lower and lower. Women thought they discovered a strange resemblance between the attitude of men toward women and that of Great Britain toward the Colonies. Their humiliation developed into indignation and rapidly evolved into a spirit of rebellion. “Something must be done” said they, “something that will make a dent in the solid wall which imprisons us.”

The two suffrage groups were the only national social organizations in existence. If anything was to be done, they, alone, were prepared to do it. At frequent gatherings during the three years when national pride was being stimulated by the oratory of men, these women discussed what might be done. Some suggested that women, dressed in black, should march up and down in solemn procession, carrying banners wherever there was a celebration. Others thought it more suitable for men to sit along the way, clad in sack cloth and ashes, in order to show their repentance as of old. The most brilliant suggestions was that those men who wished to glorify themselves and their nation could do so most effectively by extending to women the same rights, privileges, and immunities, that they, themselves, enjoyed. However, these and many other suggestions seemed a bit impractical, so the women talked on and on until they came to an agreement.

They proposed to draft a woman’s Declaration of Independence. “If the old Declaration does not include women, let us have one that will” said they. They applied for a place on the official program to read their Declaration and were refused. They sent a delegation next. The Chairman of the Centennial Commission refused their request and gave his final reason that if they read their Declaration, it would become the great event of the day and put all else in the background.

Meanwhile, the women had planned to prepare for their invasion of Philadelphia by opening a headquarters there. They found a house owned by a woman and the rent contract was soon drawn. By Pennsylvania laws, a contract made by a married woman must be confirmed by the husband, although the property might belong to the wife. When the husband saw the contract, he flew into a towering temper, tore it into shreds, and angrily declared that no such outlandish women should occupy his wife’s house. The incident only sets forth the legal status of women in 1876.

In the headquarters which they secured elsewhere the women talked more. They sent another delegation to the Chairman and said: “Since there is no time on the program for our Declaration, we ask a very small favor. When the reading of your Declaration comes to an end, may one of our women step on the platform, hand the Chairman our Declaration without saying a single word. He may accept it in silence and it will not consume a minute, but it will put our Declaration in the Proceedings.” This small favor was declined. They went home to talk more and then requested fifty tickets for the platform. The Chairman must have suspected a dangerous conspiracy and he refused even one. From some source the women secured five tickets of admission, however, and there was more talk. Over and over they said: “It would be easier to give up now, but if we do, what will our sisters in 1976 say of us when the next century rolls around? We must act, they may be free.” Five officers volunteered and, under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, entered the hall, pressing as far forward as possible. Near the platform they stood, while Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read the Declaration of Independence from the faded and crumpled original document held together in a frame. At the close of the reading, the Declaration was held aloft for the people to see. The audience arose, threw up its hats, while cheer followed cheer. Meanwhile the women continued to move forward. All the stars in their courses aided the woman’s cause at that moment. The standing men, not knowing why the women were trying to gain the platform, but supposing they had admission there, assisted them on their way.

The Vice President of the United States [There was no vice president in 1876, she may be referring to Thomas W. Ferry, President pro tempore of the Senate, who was present at the ceremony.], who was presiding over the great meeting, saw them coming and turned deathly pale. Before he could think what to do, Miss Anthony stood before him. At a distance, the Chairman of the Commission, excited with anger, called out: “Order! Order!” Probably his command was directed at the women, but the audience took it for silence in order that the women might have his attention and repeated his calls. Probably they were about to sing a song or give a flag drill. Suddenly the great audience was quiet and wondering what was coming next. Then Miss Anthony, in a clear voice, announced that she was handing the Chairman the Woman’s Declaration of Independence since the one they had heard was for men only. He took the beautifully engrossed Declaration, tied with red, white, and blue, bowed and said nothing. Hastily, the women withdrew, but as they went, they handed out copies of the document, right and left, to the many hands extended for them.

Outside the building, they took their places on a platform built for musicians before Independence Hall. Behind them hung the great bell which one hundred years before had proclaimed “liberty to all the land and the inhabitants thereof.” There Susan B. Anthony read the Declaration while Matilda Joslyn Gage held an umbrella over Miss Anthony’s head in protection against the broiling July sun. The audience was attentive and applauded heartily. Then the five women hastened away again, distributing copies of the precious document all the way.

A meeting had been called at a great church at 12 o’ clock, high noon, to hear the report of these officers. Lucretia Mott, in her eighty-fourth year, presided. Elizabeth Cady Stanton read the new Declaration and the officers told how they had carried it to the official program meeting. Then came the speakers.

So many men and women think the suffrage movement began about 1910, that it was an evolution of the radicals out of the Temperance, the Club, or the Education movement, that I add this personal word. I have followed the trails of woman suffrage campaigns faithfully for forty-six years, yet old as I am, I came into the world so late that I lost the opportunity of seeing 23 of the 31 women who signed that Declaration. Most of them were in Philadelphia and many of them spoke on that July 4th.

For five consecutive hours the audience sat and listened. They would not adjourn until the Hutchinsons came with their most famous song. I have heard old John Hutchinson sing it alone when all the brothers and sisters were dead. It had such a rollicking tune that it produced the effect upon listeners that the oratory of Demosthenes had upon the Greeks: They always wanted to go forth to fight the Persians when he spoke.

One hundred years hence, what a change will be made

In politics, morals, religion, and trade,

In statesmen who wrangle or ride on the fence,

These things will be altered one hundred years hence.

The woman, man’s partner, man’s equal shall stand

While beauty and harmony govern the land,

To think for one’s self will be no offense

The world will be thinking one hundred years hence.

When the last verse died away, slowly, reluctantly, with tear dimmed eyes, the audience went away to tell the home folks that the most wonderful thing they had seen in Philadelphia had been a woman’s meeting. It was the last shot which that group fired for their common cause. The curtain dropped on Susan B. Anthony, being younger, led on for a generation after, but the majority of that stalwart little army never met again.

When the great Declaration was signed in 1776, it meant war, bloodshed, terrific costs, suffering, over taxation for a long time to come and a financial depression with hard times for many years. That is always the price of a Revolution. The woman’s declaration was quite as decided and as bold in its demands and it meant war too, but a new variety, based on peaceful methods. Forty-four years later its claims were won without a gun, a hospital, a corpse, or a tax. The price had been paid as they went along. Nothing had to paid at the end! You may read the two declarations, and you will observe that although neither Declaration has been completely enforced the woman’s declaration of 1876 has won as complete a victory today as has the men’s declaration of 1776.

The managers of the Centennial never recalled the incident as a pleasant memory and they never comprehended that what happened that July 4th had been a revolution not an interruption of a program. The women had adopted a list of genuine grievances, a well laid out program, a definite aim and placed a small army behind it. The only thing it lacked to make it a replica of a man’s revolution was a desire to kill and weapons with which to do it.

Many of the women remained in Philadelphia all summer and held two meetings a week at their headquarters. Women came to these meetings to listen from all over the nation. Hundreds more signed the Woman’s Declaration and went home, pledged to give their life’s best service to the fulfillment of the pledges made. If there were one woman only in a town who accepted the new faith, organized her; they said from the one woman there grew in time a club; from the club grew a state association, the state association connected with the national. In time there was an army no prince could revert. In time there was an army of some millions. The program had remained constant from the first and included all the wrongs of women with all the claims of right.

In after years what were called stunts were performed like the King’s army that marched up the hill and down the hill, women did things to advertise their cause but not one of these events could be compared with a genuine revolution. That came but once and its date was July 4 1876.

Susan B. Anthony, at seventy-three, was still leading when it was decided to hold a Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893.The suffragists were determined that at Chicago women should not be snubbed, while the men in authority were equally decided that women should be given no opportunity to play tricks upon them. The women petitioned and interviewed in the hope of securing the appointment of a few women on the General Commission. Instead, Congress planned a Board of Lady Managers and a Woman’s Building. The Board were appointed by the Governors and were, therefore, considered to be quite safe. The plan was very simple. When and if an article was presented by a woman and the Board of Lady Managers found it worthy to be exhibited, it went into the Woman’s Building. All articles presented by men, if found worthy for exhibit, went into one of the dozen of other buildings.

At the annual suffrage convention of 1893, Miss Anthony was asked: “What has been gained for woman suffrage during the past forty years?” She replied: “This: we have turned every educational, religious, and political body into a debating society on the woman question.” Six months later she might have added the entire nation to the list of debaters.

The press charged the Board of Lady Managers at the first meeting with that rare sin of wrangling and the charge was repeated at each succeeding meeting. The question that disturbed the Board’s composure was invariably set forth in the press and frequently the alleged quarrel was helped by an editorial. The official press comments made much of the generally accepted theory that the deliberations of men’s assemblies are invariably guided by Reason, a trait highly developed in the male sex, while women are unhappily obliged to proceed in similar circumstances without Reason, since it has been singularly omitted from the female brain. At this point it sometimes seemed that the entire ration joined in the controversy.

The case of Harriet Hosmer was one of the earliest of these debates. She was our most distinguished woman sculptor and her work had been ordered by municipalities at home and nations abroad. She accepted an official invitation…

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Woman suffrage had been a subject detested by a majority. Suffragists were suspect. Their intelligence, religion, morals, reason, manners, and general good sense were questioned, but majority and minority were getting ready to change places. No one was quite so surprised as the old suffragists to find that woman suffrage had suddenly grown so popular and that Miss Anthony was the chief attraction at the Chicago Congress.

The Congress of Representative Women, under the auspices of the National Council of Women, led by May Wright Sewall and Rachel Foster Avery, two suffrage officers, held in May, was the first of a long series. I remember the first session. All the foreign delegates were on the platform and the great hall of Washington was completely filled. The building was not finished and shavings, dust, and rubbage were everywhere visible. Every woman on the platform wore a train, the foreign trains being noticeably longer than those of American women. Whenever a woman came forward to speak, she came in a cloud of dust and with an amazing display of shavings on her train. As few women spoke in their own language and most of the audience understood no language at all except their own, their attention was concentrated on the trains, their emotions divided between amusement at the queer sight and shame at the exhibit of American housekeeping.

That afternoon there was a great reception in one of the large halls. As an afterthought, apparently, a considerable number of Committees had been appointed by the management of the Congress. To the Chairman of each had been assigned a small room on the second floor of the building. For two hours, I, one of the Chairman, sat in my Committee room, reading a book. Not another soul appeared to be on the floor. Suddenly voices, and the sounds of a crowd, burst upon the silence. Like the tread of the armies of Cambyses came the noise. Directly it was at the door, - men and women, exhausted with too long standing. Spying seats, in a flash they flocked in and filled them, leaving an envious crowd at the door wistfully looking for more. In the audience was a popular lecturer. The unprepared Chairman got to her feet and introduced her. Looking about, she saw another possibility. The rest of the afternoon was filled with speakers picked from the audience. Noting that it had been a suffrage meeting, the Chairman announced that at the same hour the next day another meeting would be held there with Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone as speakers. Then she scurried off to find these two illustrious pioneers and to make sure of their presence. The next afternoon the Chairman, on her way to the little Committee rooms, was squeezed against the wall by a crowd fill the hall. Out of it stepped a member of her Committee left in charge. “Come” she said, “turn around, this is our audience. We have the Hall of Columbus.” When the Chairman reached the platform, 2,500 people were ready to listen. Miss Anthony and Lucy Stone, the two pioneers in Chicago, came, but out of the audience other speakers had to be found. So, for the entire week, the great audience came day after day, applauding, cheering, and applauding again. Each day speakers had to be picked up. There was never time to prepare a program or invite a speaker. Every speaker was free to say what she would. They all talked woman suffrage. The news spread. The audience was a suffrage audience gathered from every state in the union. They never forgot. They enlisted and they went home to work. Those meetings were the surprise of the Congress. Within that hall, the minority crawled up close to the majority column. The cartoonists are quick-minded people. They had pictured Miss Anthony for years with a dress hanging in uneven scallops and carrying a large umbrella. Other suffragists were made to look like escapers from the insane asylums. Anti-suffragists were good looking, fashionably dressed, highly respectable women. Now the cartoonists changed their clothes. Miss Anthony never carried her umbrella in a cartoon after 1893. Suffrage clothes became more fashionable as time went on. The anti-suffragists began to look weason-minded; the suffragists tolerantly liberal.

Miss Anthony remained in Chicago all summer, speaking at all kinds of Congresses. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was unable to go to Chicago, but, in response to Miss Anthony’s telegrams and letters, she wrote seven speeches which Miss Anthony read in different congresses. There was a suffrage congress in the summer and again the crowds which came to it displayed the growing popularity of the Cause.

When the Curtain fell on the Columbian Exposition, business had not revived, the financial outlook was still dark and unpromising, but, again, the tide had turned in the suffrage struggle.

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