Carrie Chapman Catt

Statement at a Hearing Before the House Judiciary Committee - Dec. 16, 1915

Carrie Chapman Catt
December 16, 1915— Washington, D.C.
Print friendly

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I fear that the hearings before this Judiciary Committee have become, in the eyes and understanding of many of the members, a rather perfunctory affair which you have to endure, having accepted positions upon this committee. May I remind you that since the last hearing before this committee something new has happened in the United States, and that is that more than a million men have voted for woman suffrage in four of the most conservative States of the East. In my own State, New York, we are rather slow and we do not yet even know the total "yes" votes, but the votes of the other States are in. The 1ast returns showed that there were 535,000 in that State. That, number, if correct , is larger than the "yes" votes which gave the privilege of the ballot to the woman of nine other States. I consider that that big vote in the four eastern States presents to this committee a mandate for action which was never presented before.

There are those, doubtless, on this committee who will say that this is a question of States rights. I have been studying Congressmen for a good many years, and Congressmen come and Congressmen go, but our cause goes on forever. I have discovered this important fact, that when a man believes woman suffrage is right it is a constitutional and a national question and when he does not believe it is right he then says it is a question of State rights. But as the Constitution has provided—and no one denies it—a method of securing suffrage by this means, it is a fair proposition for us to come to you and ask that it be submitted to the several legislatures of our country . We come asking this privilege because there are two ways in which we can secure the vote, this way and by a referendum. Now, referendum presents a proposition bigger and harder than any of you gentlemen have met in any political question in which you are interested. Whether you are Democrats or Republicans, when you begin a campaign you have the machinery ready; you have a certain number of votes upon which you can count, you know they are always going to be Republicans or always going to be democratic, and then your duty is to secure a certain additional number in order to win your majority. But we have no precedents, and we are obliged to campaign all men of every rank and religion.

Mr. GARD. If you will pardon me, I must ask to be excused, because I have another committee engagement.

Mrs. CATT. We have discovered not only in the eastern States, but we had discovered it in other States as well, that when we begin our campaign there were certain groups of people who were opposed to us. In the State of New York our constitution is very liberal. We allow illiterates to vote, and so kind is the State to those illiterates that it prints a little picture at the top of the ticket so that a man will be sure to know which party he belongs to, and if that is not enough, a man can go inside the booth and teach him how to vote. We have in New York the privilege of paupers having the vote, and besides these two classes we have those who have gone through the courts and who are not criminals in jail. For example, in the city of New York of 125,000 who passed through our courts last year, having committed some sort of minor misdemeanors but who come under the great genera1class of criminals, 16 per cent were women and all the others were voters.

We have now a commissioner of prisons, who is a woman, and who, wanting to vote herself, has made some investigation along these lines. And in the city of New York we have discovered, through her investigations, that the men in the prisons of New York are privileged, when they shall come out with a pardon, to vote. Not very long ago she visited one of those prisons which is an experiment, and while the different members of the commission wore addressing the prisoners she was invited to do so herself, and the gentleman said, " Talk to them about woman suffrage." They did it rather as a joke. She said to them: " Gentlemen, I want to ask you how many of you believe in woman suffrage," and there were only two hands come up. She asked how many of them were naturalized or were native citizens and how many of them would be out by election day. And it was found that some 90 per cent of them were to be released before that time and would be eligible to vote. And then she asked how many of them would vote for woman suffrage, and she found these two hands coming up and that was all. And then she tried to find from the others what their reasons for being opposed to woman suffrage, and they could not say. At last one of them raised his hand and very slowly said the thing which the which the statesmen of the land repeat "Woman's place is at home." It is the primitive fundamental objection which appears in the minds of men and of women before they have been made to think. As Julius Caesar said, a great many years ago, "Men believe, for the most part, that which they wish."

It was a good many years ago when the nation of Belgium sent a man who was the superintendent, as we would call him, of public education to this country to investigate the operation or woman suffrage. There was a threatened strike to secure universal suffrage for men, and a counter amendment had been offered that if that should be enforced women should be enfranchised. This man visited all of our suffrage States. He examined and interviewed all of our governors and all the "high-ups" in the various suffrage States, and when he returned to New York it was my privilege to meet that gentleman. I asked him the result of his investigations, and he said, with a French shrug of the shoulders, "I am convinced in my mind; I have seen nothing which tells me that woman suffrage is bad, and I have seen much that tells me it is good, but, oh, my heart is opposed still." There are members of this committee who are still governed by their hearts instead of their heads, and there is one such from the State of New York. Not long ago he was interviewed and he said, "I voted against the amendment because I had discovered that in the West where women vote the governments are imbecile." I am not going to attempt to answer that statement. I will refer it to those gentlemen of this committee who come from those Western States. What was the reason for that attitude? Simply because of that innate prejudice against the idea of women voting.

Gentlemen, this movement has grown bigger and stronger as the years have passed by, until to-day, millions of women are asking in every State in the Union for the vote. The president of Cornell University, known to many of you, Dr. Schurman, said upon a suffrage platform not long ago, that his reason for now aggressively advocating woman suffrage was because he had discovered in studying history that it was never good for a government to have a restless and dissatisfied class, and that he had made up his mind that the women of the State of New York and of the Nation did think—whether they had or not—that they had a grievance and that they were restless and dissatisfied under that grievance, and he believed that a government was saner and that it was stronger and safer when grievances were relieved. I say to you that the reason grows bigger and stronger in the minds of women continually. The gentleman from New York who thinks the Western States have imbecile governments might find some discrepancies in justice in his own State. For example, the safety of our land, as we will all admit, is intrusted more largely to the public­school teachers than to any other one class, and in New York those teachers have been promised for many years a pension at the end of 30 years of service, and a percentage has been taken from their wages in order to help make that fund and they have lived and worked with the expectation of that pension, and when this last year the time came for quite a number of them—some 14, I believe—to retire from the schools and to get that pension the fund had been so badly mismanaged that no pensions could be paid. And if there was one teacher among them who felt it necessary to retire on account of health and overwork there was no fund from which to d raw a percentage of her salary.

In October, in the city of New York, in order to show to the men of Missouri who lived with us that the women wanted to vote, there was a parade and 20,000 women marched up Fifth Avenue in order to show that they wanted that vote, and among them there marched a great number of public-school teachers of the city of New York, 12,000 of whom had contributed to our campaign funds. These women, teaching in that city, second in size in- the world, deal with the most difficult problems; they are teaching all that the new coming people know of citizenship, and these teachers were asking their own share of that citizenship. And a gentleman, whose name is known to every one of you, was sitting at the window of a clubhouse on Fifth Avenue idly watching the women pass by by the thousands, hour after hour, until at last this great group of teachers, 16 abreast, marched by with their banners and blackboards, and on their blackboards were the greetings that they were giving to the men and women standing on the streets. And this gentleman looked out upon them, and do you think he said what he should have said? "I am convinced that the women of New York want to vote and I will vote for them." That is what an honorable American citizen would have said; that is what any open-minded man would have said; that is what any man would have said who had made a superficial observation of the growth of this great movement. Instead he said: "My, God, I never realized what a menace this woman suffrage movement is to this country; we have got to do something to keep the women from getting the vote next Tuesday," and he did, and many another did. And I say to you, gentlemen, it is a menace, if menace it is, to this country. But that is a queer way to look at it. To appoint women to teach our boys the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the sacredness of citizenship, and then to say, ''You are able to do this but you are unworthy and untrustworthy to have your vote counted at the ballot box."

We ask you to do a thing which will represented in future histories as the greatest honor to your committee and to Congress. You will be glad to tell your grandchildren that you voted to submit this amendment, for woman's suffrage is coming anyway; there is no power on earth that can prevent it. As was said long ago, there is a power in an idea which always carries, no matter how great the armies may be against, provided it is right, and this is right. There is not a man on this committee nor in this house who can produce a single argument against it that will hold water, and the thing that is arousing the women of this land continually and making them realize that out great Government visits upon us a daily injustice lies in the fact that the doors of our ports are left wide open and that the men of all nation on earth are permitted to enter here. The National Government, on a five years· residence, gives to every man entering them the right of citizenship, and, with the exception of a few State constitutions that have some restrictions in them, every one automatically enfranchises all these men. In the city of New York they must be talked to in 24 languages. And there are men who are a disgrace to our land, men who have their own ideas and selfish interests to serve who are always ready to teach those men that a vote means a dollar. And it is that which is making our Government imbecile, just because men with the dollar have back of them a block of voters who have no more comprehension of Americanism or patriotism than has the man in the moon. It is a shame that such men as that are able to control the elections.

We found in New York blocks of those foreign voters, and while I have naught to say against them—I believe in having the open door; I believe in citizenship for them—I would, if I had my way, have the Democratic Party and the Republican Party so brave and so American that they would unite upon one thing and vote it out if it takes a lifetime, and that is that there should be no buying and no controlling and no driving of voters in order that one party may beat the other. It is the thing that is holding our Nation back. And it is that control by unprincipled men that to-day we realize is holding back the enfranchisement of American women. I appeal to you, gentlemen, in the name of progress, in the name of Americanism, and in the name of right to recognize the fact that women are people, and that no Government which claims to be based upon the views of the people can be consistent and just unless it recognizes those people.

Woman suffrage, because of these things, is coming: but it is a question how. It is not an easy thing to secure the ratification of such an amendment by the legislatures of the States . It means that there must be an overwhelming sentiment there, and it means that men at the pools are not going to be driven up in blocks and voted against the principle upon which our Government is founded.

A gentleman said to me yesterday, "This woman suffrage movement is a very good thing for the women; it gives them something to do. Most of the women I know are in it and they like it because there is something to do." I said , "Do you think we are going to stop when we have the vote?" And he said, in an astonished manner, "Of course you are going to stop." And I said, "No."

In the State of New York—and, I think, in our neighboring States—the women have taught the men more than they ever knew before about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and we are longing to teach those men who to-day are voted against us in blocks; we are anxious to teach them that the most sacred duty a citizen of a country like this can perform is to put an honest prayer for the welfare of society into the ballot box.

I ask you gentlemen of the committee to recognize that this is not a question merely to be heard and passed over; it is a question to be acted upon and the duty is with you.

Mr. CHANDLER. Will you consent to a question or two?

Mrs. CATT. Certainly.

Mr. CHANDLER. You referred to a certain New Yorker who had favored woman suffrage and who had changed his mind and that he had based the change upon the belief that he thought government by women was imbecile.

Mrs. CATT. I did not say a man had changed his mind, but—

Mr. CHANDLER. Was he a Congressman?

Mrs. CATT. Yes, sir.

Mr. CHANDLER. Would you mind stating who he is?

Mrs. CATT. The gentleman happens to be a member of this committee and l would object to doing so.

Mr. CHANDLER. The only member of this committee from New York who has favored woman suffrage, who might have changed his mind—

Mrs. CATT. No; I did not make the statement, Mr. Chandler, that he had changed. I said that is what he had stated in an interview recently.

Mr. CHANDLER. That is the question I want to get at. .Who told you that?

Mrs. CATT. It was reported by the lady who is the leader of the district in which he lives. It was not you.

Mr. CHANDLER. It was not I?

Mrs. CATT. No. [Laughter]

Mr. CHANDLER. I beg your pardon, then, Mrs. Catt. I would like to ask another question if I may.

Mrs. CATT. Certainly.

Mr. CHANDLER. I wish to say, of course, I never said anything of that kind, because I have made speeches for woman suffrage and—

Mrs. CATT (interrupting). I think you misunderstood. This gentleman never was a woman suffrage man. He said he voted against it and the reason he did so was because the western governments, in his judgment, were imbecile.

Mr. CHANDLER. Then I am ignorant of the members of my own committee, because I thought I was the only member on the committee from New York who favored woman suffrage . I want to ask this question with reference to a change that might be made, because I might change. I voted, as you well know—I do not know whether you know of my activities in New York, but I voted for woman suffrage and also made speeches for it.

Mrs. CATT. Yes ; I know.

Mr. CHANDLER. .As Citizen Chandler at the ballot box I claim the right to vote as I see fit at any time ; but my district went 2,000 against woman suffrage, and the city which I have. the honor to represent in part went 89,000 against it, and the State that I have the honor to represent in part went 200,000 against it. You said something about the mandate of a million men of the East that want this suffrage. That million represented the minority, did it not?

Mrs. CATT. It did.

Mr. CHANDLER. Do you think the minority in any community can give a mandate, or is it the majority only that can give the mandate? There were more than a million voted against it.

Mrs. CATT. If the world had waited for the minorities that stood for right to become the majorities, we would be living in the Middle Ages still.

Mr. CHANDLER. But this is a political question. We base free institutions of man on the majority. Do you think a Representative is morally, from the viewpoint of politica1 morality, justified in voting for a measure when his constituents have recently deliberately—that is, at the ballot box—and overwhelmingly voted against it? Is not that a mandate to him?

Mrs. CATT. It certainly is not.

Mr. CHANDLER. He does not want to misrepresent them, does he?

Mrs. CATT. It might be a vote for the thing itself. If Congress had the power to grant suffrage itself, that might be considered a mandate but you have no such power We only ask you to submit the question to the legis1atures, which is the limit. to which you can go, as we understand.

Mr. CHANDLER. Then, coming home to yourself and myself, you are a citizen of New York and I am a citizen of New York. The State of Nevada has only 83,000 people and the State of New York has 10,000,000. Under present methods Nevada has one vote and New York has one vote. Do you think the New York Representative ought to propose to put Nevada in a situation where she can cast one vote with New York under those conditions?

Mrs. CATT. We have nothing to do with the fact that Nevada has two Senators and New York has two Senators. We have to appeal to the political organization as it exists. We have to study the constitutions of the State and the Nation, to see how we can get this thing. We are bound and determined to have the vote. How are we going to get it? There are only two avenues open. It is not the proper thing, I think, to throw up to us that conditions politically are not quite fair and equal between the States.

Mr. CHANDLER. I hold the theory that the present system of amending the Constitution is antiquated and undemocratic, because it tends to subvert rather than promote the will of the majority in politics. I say that 20 States in this Nation have fewer votes by nine hundred and something than the State of New York.

Mrs. CATT. Certainly.

Mr. CHANDLER. I want to know, and I am asking as a matter of seriousness, and especially to you who stand so high in the councils of the parties, as to what I should do as a Representative, not only before the committee, but when the vote comes before the House—whether I should vote for the measure or vote to report out a measure that shall give 20 States of this Nation against the State of New York, when those 20 States have fewer votes and fewer people in them than the State of New York. Do you think 1 should do that?

Mrs. CATT. If I were sitting in your chair, Mr. Chandler, and you were standing here appealing to me for this thing, I should say this: "I am not going to have it on my conscience that in a committee I refused to allow this question to go upon its way to the legislatures of the States." I would say, "I am a Democrat in the broad sense. I believe in the will of the people, and I believe we can trust the people of the various States to do the thing that is right by this bill. I will not hold it back." That is what I would say.

Mr. CHANDLER. But the people are not doing it. The legislatures are doing it, and you give them the power to perpetrate an injustice. If you believe 20 States should not have 20 votes, having fewer votes than New York, you are trying to put it in their power to perpetrate an injustice upon the people whom you represent.

Mrs. CATT. That would apply, of course, to anything that is submitted under that method.

Mr. CHANDLER. I think you are right about that, and I should not, and I shall not hereafter vote for any amendment which the people of New York do not want.

Mrs. CATT . I think that what you should do is to make new State boundaries according to population, or make a difference in the number of Senators. We women have always been punished; if there is anything wrong anywhere in any constitution, it is always visited upon woman suffrage everywhere. That is the reason why we have not the vote now, and it is a rankly unfair thing that the method provided by the Constitution is giving to them any such injustice.

Mr. CHANDLER. You understand that personally I am still for woman suffrage, and when I get a chance to vote for it I am going to do so, and if I can make speeches for it, I will do that. The question is how I should act as a Representative. I make a distinction between Citizen Chandler and Representative Chandler.

Mrs. CATT. I hope as Representative Chandler you will vote "aye" on this.