Carrie Chapman Catt

The Hope of the Founders - 26 March 1930

Carrie Chapman Catt
March 26, 1930
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This speech was given as a radio address over a nation-wide hook-up on the National Broadcasting Company’s system. The occasion was the tenth anniversary of woman suffrage and of the founding of the League of Women Voters.

You ask me what HOPE led to the founding of the League of Women Voters. None at all. When suffragists were marching upward, on the last lap of their century old campaign, they spied Old Age coming down the path to meet them. They knew they would be caught soon, for they had been long on the way. They did not feel sorrow or regret. Glancing over their shoulders, they saw an army plodding upward behind them, younger, healthier, stronger, much handsomer, and beaming with patriotism. The Old Ones spoke softly to the Young Ones, saying "Hear ye, we are dropping an incompleted task that we can no longer carry. Come, take hold, and finish it." The answer "Aye, Aye", unanimous and confident, came in quick response. The army picked up the dropped tools and went to work. No, it was not a hope, but a job, a hard, disagreeable job, that brought the League of Women Voters. That is the way God's work is done.

The situation was this: with the vote won, there remained innumerable odds and ends of claims to equal rights, some disputed year by year for a century, that had now to be set straight and made consistent with the status of the enfranchised women. There were legal wrongs, some little, some big, that must be made right, and every code of laws was dotted with curious discriminations against women and these had not only to be thought out, but often brought to the consideration of a somewhat obstreperous legislature. These were the troubles left over from the suffrage campaign, but there were others.

When the suffrage movement began, no married woman could collect or use her wages, should she earn any. As late as 1846 there were only eight occupations open to women. No industry wanted them. In 1920 industry had so expanded that the number of occupations had increased by several hundreds, and every industry wanted women. In that year they were employed in all of them except eight; that is, all occupations except eight were closed to women in 1846, - all except eight were open to women in 1920. Every day new industries are arriving and new occupations call for new women workers. Even farmers are deep in the experiments of translating corn into paper, sugar, syrup, and fertilizer, instead of feeding it to swine. Women do not feed swine, but they will work in all the new substitutes.

Upon this fast expanding field of industry lies the mighty prosperity of this nation, and, curiously, the industry rests largely upon its millions of women workers. Strangely, every worker is wrapped around by a group of problems and this forms the contact with the League of Women Voters.

Wages: Shall the women's equal the men's or be inferior?

Hours: Shall the woman work 16 or 8, or what?

Seats: May she sit or must she always stand?

Sanitation: Shall her health be protected or death invited?

Trade Unions: Is she free to join a trade union and if she does, will she have equal rights within the Union?

Indeed, there are problems enough boiling and seething around every woman of us to keep an army of keen thinkers and doers busy for a generation before they shall all be cleared away.

The problems confronting the new voters of 1920 were by no means confined to the rights and status of women.

Men in the United States were enfranchised in six installments and in no case were these new voters asked what qualifications for voting they possessed. Suffragists discovered long ago that many of them possessed none. With ignorant, untutored voters forming its constituencies the great bold progressive nation dreamt of by the Revolutionary fathers never came. Progressive legislation has been slow to arrive. Institutions, unbecoming such a nation as ours, still linger. Inexplicably timidity frequently possess Congresses and Legislatures, Presidents and Governors.

Benjamin Franklin was a great story teller and at least one biographer records that this was his favorite tale. The famous Eddystone lighthouse, occupying a remote and wild island, was kept by two men. In the autumn a ship brought them a stock of provisions which had to last six months and during that time they saw no human being except themselves. One spring the ship's crew, bringing provisions, found only one man. Upon inquiry, the man replied that he had not seen the other man for six months. He explained that they had had a dispute and had decided that they hated each other so much that neither wanted ever to see or to hear the other again, so one had gone to live in the tower while the other occupied the ground floor, and for six months they had not met. Franklin said that the spirit of these two men pervaded every Parliament he had known and gave this as the reason why so little got done. The story seems to provide an explanation why Naval Reduction Conferences do not reduce; why a high tariff Congress consumes a year and some months to raise the tariff higher. It certainly illustrates the predicament of our nation when wets have taken to the cellar and drys to the tower.

The spirit of the two men, flying about in our legislatures, explains admirably why progress has often moved backward instead of forward.

Observing these things, suffragists said to each other, "Wives and daughters of American men will be as ignorant, indifferent and Eddystonish as they. What shall we do about it?" "Why", others replied, "we must educate them. Remember, no party, no government, no organizations, ever tried to educate the new man voter. He lived, voted and died where he was found, and that was in a rut. We must not repeat that blunder. Let us have a League of Women Voters. Each League must first educate itself; then go forth and teach all it knows to other groups. It must hold schools and round tables on all the great issues of the day. It must persuade other organizations to take up the business of making good and wise women citizens. Ah, and every knowing woman must ask questions of husbands and sons at home that they cannot answer and thus agitate a single standard of political wisdom and that a higher one. It is the business of the League to drive from its midst any spirit of Eddystone that appears and ever after to wage war against such spirits in the home circle, all legislatures, and Congress. Whenever a naval conference is called again, the Leagues of Women Voters of all the nations must provide many Round Tables with a dictionary and encyclopedia in the middle of each one and all surrounded by very easy chairs. With political fly brushes they must then swish away every buzzing Eddystonean spirit.

For ten years the League of Women Voters has striven. It has done excellent work and found satisfaction in the doing, but before us gleams a coming glory: a nation is coming, coming; a nation, with ideals as noble, with intelligence as outstanding, with leadership as bold, as the greatest Revolutionary father pictured in his dreams - a nation never yet achieved.

The job lies unfinished on the "world's work table" but imitating Kipling's words

The League continueth

Its work continueth

Broad and deep continueth

Greater than its knowing

God bless the League; God bless the Nation.

God bless its women voters,

its men voters and more than all else

God bless the rising generation.

God bless one of the ablest, most devoted and keenest minded presidents any organization ever had. She is Miss Belle Sherwin. I am introducing her now and she will speak to you from Washington.

Catt, C. C. (1928). Carrie Chapman Catt Papers: Speech and Article File, -1946; Speeches; Untitled; 1928 to 1944. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,