Carrie Chapman Catt

Speech Delivered at Pan Hellenic Program - 13 July 1939

Carrie Chapman Catt
July 13, 1939— New York City
New York World's Fair
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July 13, 1939

The future is unpredictable. An idea, a movement, an invention, may indicate a trend in a fixed direction which would naturally produce expectations which seem certain. What no one knows or can possibly know is the nature of the unexpected counter ideas and movements which arise and take full possession of the entire situation. Such influences may bring the tide of progress to a standstill or it may pick up some trends of though and force them forward with surprising speed. Who can predict these possible happenings.

For example, in the early years of the nineteenth century five movements, destined to become great and powerful, arose. All were small and none had a definite program. These were Women’s Rights, Labor, the abolition of Slavery, of Alcohol, and of War. Each was an entirely separate movement, but all were energetic and pushing onward. Women were intensely interested in the last three, Slavery, Alcohol, and War. They insisted upon their right to attend public meetings held, to join organizations, to sit in conventions, and to speak when they had anything on their minds. All these privileges, now so commonplace, had been denied them before and never, during that period, was the women’s interest truly welcome. The opposition to women’s participation had few arguments, but put forward much ugly temper and voluminous quotations from the Bible. A genuine alarm at the manner in which the (quote) “strong-minded women ‘were attempting’ to drive men from their God ordained sphere” (end quote) possessed the country. Editors advised, preachers sermonized, and on street corners and around tea tables men and women gossiped. Half a century later, the results of these highly excited years might be summed up in a brief comment: whatever effect the controversy over women’s participation in other movements than their own may have had, it enormously increased the strength and power of the woman movement and gave the women a self-reliance and determination they had never known before. It drew the women together, clarified their thinking and set the Woman Movement on its feet and marching forward on an established road.

Slavery was settled by war; the Labor, Peace, and Temperance questions are still gigantic problems, far from their conclusions. Yet, in the beginning, all helped the woman movement onward although it was done involuntarily. No one could have foreseen these aids to the woman movement.

On the other hand, there were unexpected influences which checked all progress and sent the woman movement backward from a quarter to half a century. The greatest of these was war. During a century, beginning with the Mexican War, 1846, we have indulged in four wars, three international and one Civil, besides a continual run of Indian wars in the first fifty years.

The Civil War would not have happened had men used more reason and less temper in the controversy over slavery. They did not, however, and the war came. Between the ages of eighteen and sixty, men, both North and South, went to the front to engage in a gory conflict. No army before that time had been so well educated and was so inspired by the ideas of liberty as were the two American armies. They had been trained in our public schools; they had heard the Declaration of Independence on every Fourth of July and many knew well the Bill of Rights. Both sides were loyal to the foundation principles of our government. When that four years’ war was over and the armies marched home again, they left one million dead or incapacitated behind them – nearly one man in ever six of the population. Substitutes for the dead and incapacitated men were needed. The government consequently opened wide the gates of the Republic and issued a friendly invitation to all who chose to enter. The steamship companies found profit in the Third Class passage and cooperated energetically. The substitutes came from all lands, races and religions. In time, they came at the rate of a million a year.

The masses of them were far more illiterate than the Americans who had died. Many of them brought theories and superstitions still common among their countrymen. I have known, in my lifetime, curious examples of these ancient ideas still alive among the most ignorant of the world.

In the Western mountains, a woman was dragged to death by young Mexican men on horseback, the charge being that she was a witch. Witchcraft had been long forgotten by our nation at that time. In New York, a young Italian woman stood upon a table in a room filled with men. Her husband had placed her there to be looked over for it was his purpose to sell her at auction. The police intervened in time to prevent the sale, but a careful investigation resulted in a report that apparently husband, wife, and visitors had had no doubts as to the legality of the proceeding. Women had been sold at auction in most countries, even in England, but that had been two hundred years before. These men had not caught up with progress.

Great and noble men immigrated in those middle of the century years and have contributed patriotic and highly intelligent service to our country, but the average of this immigration through ignorance, lack of education and tradition has enormously lowered the standard of our civilization to a point far below the plane it would have attained had there been no Civil War. The American Woman Movement, and many others, have been checked and thwarted by outworn European and Oriental points of view.

An even more damaging effect upon our civilization arises from the practice instituted early and continued to this day of buying votes, especially foreign votes. This has corrupted our Republic. It has degraded our political life and besmirched the entire ideal of democracy.

I have seen, with my own eyes, money paid to delegates in both Democratic and Republican conventions and I have also seen money paid to illiterate foreign voters in woman suffrage referendum elections. While I never saw the actual money paid to Legislative members, I have personally known men, in at least five states, who had pledged their word to vote for woman suffrage, sneakingly change their front, and other members of the Legislature assured us of the actual price paid and the source of the payment. Money, we know, was certainly used to defeat ratification of the Federal Amendment.

No one can predict the effect of a war yet to come nor how far it will retard normal persons.

Should you ask me what new freedoms will the women of tomorrow enjoy, I would answer that it depends solely upon conditions we cannot predict and upon the intelligent activity of the women of today. No new freedom can be acquired unless a large number of women support it with the same intelligent devotion that upheld the seventy-two year long campaign to remove the eighteen original grievances and to gain the right to vote. Should a million women now want more freedoms and the number be divided into ten groups, each supporting a different freedom instead of uniting in support of one, the groups will checkmate each other and the gains be afar off. The enemy of a cause does not begin to shiver with dread of surrender until is union among the supporters.

One freedom wanted calls for immediate attention, - the right of a married woman to work when and if she has a husband who also works. In twenty-five legislatures last winter bills were introduced to this effect. A Massachusetts mayor boasts that he has dismissed some twenty-eight married women from their posts in order that men without jobs might be employed. Are the women of today ready to unite, go forth to prove how false [is] this theory and how mischievous is its practice?

There are other freedoms needed: more share in the government, more share in the party control, more share in the church administration, the peace societies, the welfare movements, and there is one post more urgently needing women’s best endeavor than all others. War, how can it be ended?

War is the oldest institution in the world as it is the most cruel, destructive, uncivilized, and unreasonable. Time was when men went to war in the spirit of adventure, looted and killed, and returned as heroes, but that was long, long ago. Modern society can no longer afford the waste of war, its cost, its destruction, its obstruction to progress. The Great War is authentically reported as costing $93.50 for every man, woman, and child in the entire world. The depression, the inevitable aftermath of war, will probably cost each government as much as the war itself while the preparation for the possible next war, that all nations dread, may exceed the cost of both.

War is as contagious as the measles. It is more destructive than an earthquake. It is Enemy #1 of everything good and decent in the world. Its spirit has spread to business, to politics, to trade unionism. There will never be a really civilized world or nation until war and all its horrible adjuncts are abolished from the earth. Can that be done? Yes, it will be done when the people demand it. We women are half the people, but as yet women do not acknowledge that they are equally responsible for world affairs. They have too recently emerged from tutelage. They are not sure of themselves and are uncertain of action to be taken, but they are half the race. God and Nature has made them half responsible for the end of War, for the abolition of all the wounds and hurts war has done to civilization. Together, we are responsible for the newer and better plans for human society, for the freedom which does no one harm, but brings a happier life to all, for the smoothly progressing evolution of every factor in world affairs.

Said Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote the first book on Woman’s Rights one hundred and fifty years ago: “We would have women advance and not retard the progress of human society.” So say we now. How far civilization will travel in the next century, how much freedom nations will allow their citizens of tomorrow, how much confident responsibility woman will assume depends upon the women of today. Certainly we might advance society more than we are now doing.

We women of the past did our best. If you, women of today, do your best, it will be a better contribution than we made because you have education and pocketbooks. Our movement began when women had neither.

Arise, brave women of today! Do your best! Have a vision and march toward it. Arise, march!

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