Elaine Weiss

The Woman's Hour (MLS Speech) - Feb. 14, 2020

Elaine Weiss
February 14, 2020— Iowa State University, Ames
Print friendly
  • So delighted to be here in this special place on this Historic Day. (STRUCK)
    • It's a thrill for me to help kick off Iowa's centennial commemorations here at the Carrie Catt Center for Women and Politics.
    • Historic day in many ways--all of them connected to your commemoration of the 19th Amend
      • and your theme of Hard Won, Not Done.
  • Firstly, today is the birthday of Frederick Douglass--the great abolition and civil rights leader --and the great champion of woman's suffrage.
    • FD chose Feb 14 as his b'day--because there were no written records of the births of enslaved children. He chose it because, when he was a little boy, before he was torn from his mother's arms, she called him her Valentine. So he chose to mark his b'day on V. Day.
  • Tomorrow--is the b'day of FD close colleague and dear friend--and Carrie Catt's mentor--
    • Susan B. Anthony--it is her Bicetennial B'day--she was born 200 years ago tomorrow.
    • She and FD often celebrated their b'days together.
      • The suffragists often held their national convention around her b'day--and sometimes turned slices of her b'day cake into a fund-raising raffle.
  • Just a few days ago--we also celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution--granting black men the right to vote--another milestone in the expansion of our democracy.
    • Though, as we know, it was very poorly enforced.
  • Last but certainly not least: Today is the 100th Birthday of the LWV (VOTE)
    • One hundred years ago today, Carrie Catt stood before the NAWSA convention in Chicago and announced the birth of the League:
      • "A mighty political experiment" she called it.
        • It was to be the next step for women after suffrage.
        • The next step in her campaign to expand and educate the American electorate.
        • The Next cause to promote democracy.
          • And it has been that--and more--for these hundred years.
      • The LWV is the daughter of the suffrage movement.
        • And it was the dream--and creation--of CCC
          • the pre-eminant 20th c suffrage leader in the nation-- and the world.
  • And of course--in a few months--in August--we will be commemorating the 100th anniv of the 19th Amendment--the SBA Amendment--- (DEM)
    • which CCC devoted 3 decades of her life to winning for Am women.
  • The convergence of all these anniversaries helps to tell Story of the 19th Amendment—
    • the largest extension of the franchise in our history-- giving the vote to half of the citizens of the nation—who were not included when the Founding Fathers constructed our govt
      • supposedly By and For The People
  • Story of how American women's demand for the vote--once considered radical, crazy, subversive--and impossible--was slowly, methodically, transformed into Const. law.
  • TWH is about how change is made in a democracy. And in society. (DEMAND)
    • The 19th Amend was not just a legal change—a Constitutional change—an election law change.
      • It didn't just double the national electorate. It didn't just make women full citizens.
      • It marked a societal change. A cultural shift. About the role of women.
        • that change is still ongoing.
    • The fight for woman suffrage was one of the defining civil rights struggles in our nation's history. one that cuts to the heart of what Democracy means:
      • who gets to participate in our government–who has a voice--
      • when we say “We the People” do we really mean everyone?

We are asking those same questions today. (MA)

  • If you look at most Am hist textbooks--woman suff is usually described in a few sentences: Am women asked for the vote at Seneca Falls in 1848 and in 1920 they were given the vote.
    • It was the March of Progress. It just happened naturally. No. It did not.
    • It required three generations of fearless activists working over 7 decades--to finally WIN the vote for American women. Active verb.
    • Activists --and leaders--like Iowa State alumna---C Lane CC.
  • Always instructive to examine the origin story of leaders. The moment which sets someone on a life mission. In my book TWH I recount the story CC herself told about her awakening to suff cause:
  • Carrie Lane was born in Ripon, Wisconsin, but grew up on a farm in Charles City, Iowa.
    • her home there has been restored and is maintained by the 19th Amend Society.
    • She was a precocious girl--road her horse 5 miles to the one room schoolhouse; read every book in the town library; (CCC YOUNG)
    • One morning when Carrie was 13 yrs old, an incident in the Lane Family kitchen deeply affected her--and eventually, changed the nation.
      • It was Election Day 1872 a Pres. Election. The campaign had been the topic of conversation at the family dinner table for months. Carrie liked to chime in.
    • Carrie's mother was very politically aware, a strong supporter of Horace Greeley, the reform candidate running ag. Gen. Ulysses Grant.
  • The STORY. Father, brothers, hired men. Too imp decision left to women.
    • She felt as if she'd been slapped.
    • She had confronted the reality of women's second-class citizenship. And it bothered her from then on. She vowed to do something about it. She dedicated her life to changing it.
  • When time for college--father didn't have $--and college for women waste of time (CCC 2)
    • She figured out a way: taught school for a year to save for tuition; enrolled in Iowa Agricultural College--now ISU
      • worked in the library and washed dishes to pay board.
    • Bristled at the inequalities she encountered here on campus in Ames:
      • Women weren't allowed to join the Debating Society or do public speaking
        • she changed that by defying the rules and making the case for women's participation.
          • she became a skilled debater and speaker-proved very valuable in her later career.
      • Male students were offered military training and physical fitness on campus;
        • she insisted women students should have the same opportunities.
        • she formed the Ladies' Military Company G (for girls).
          • They trained w. broomsticks, cut to regulation rifle size. (CCC 3)
  • Carrie graduated in 3 years, at the top of her class-- decided to become a lawyer
    • spent a yr working in a law office and reading law under the supervision of a distinguished attorney-- till she could save money for law school.
      • This plan interrupted when --Invitation to become Supt of Schools in Mason City, Iowa.
        • Job she couldn't refuse--very few women school supt'ds at that time. (BOOKS)
        • Skepticism that 24 year-old Carrie Lane had the stature to tame an unruly school district, plagued by discipline and truancy problems.
        • She proved herself. Whip story.
  • Soon the Supt of Schools married young newspaper publisher, Leo Chapman, who brought her into the newsroom as an equal partner.
    • She began writing about women's political issues. But just 18 months after their marriage, Leo died of Typhus at 29 yrs old. (CC STAND)
    • In her mid 20's Carrie was a widow--spent the next several yrs as a single,working woman
      • experienced the kind of course sexual harassment that women in the working world did at that time--and do still. She realized women had little protection under the law.
    • She earned her livelihood as a freelance journalist and professional speaker/organizer: first for Temperance Movement, then for Suffrage--the two were closely allied.
    • In late 1880s, she became an staff organizer for Iowa Equal Rights Assn.
  • Attending her first national suffrage conference in 1890, as delegate from Iowa, caught the eye of SBA, always on the lookout for young talented women. (CCC 4)
    • C. Became one Aunt Susan's Girls---a group of four or five young assistants she was grooming for leadership positions. (CCC HAT)
      • CCC travelled with Anthony around the country on organizing and speaking tours--she held her bonnet and learned the ropes. Learned leadership from a master.
  • By the time CCC joined the staff of the movement--suffs been fighting for the vote for almost 50 yrs
    • since the first outrageous demand for the vote was made by Eliz. Cady Stanton-- at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights meeting in 1848.
      • Many of those attending the meeting thought that asking for the vote was a terrible idea: too radical. ridiculous
      • A young man in audience stood up. Rode his buggy 50 miles. It was Fred Douglass . Women's Rights Man all his life. (FD)
      • FD had already worked with Eliz Stanton: The women we know as the early pioneers of the suffrage movement--ECS--SBA--Lucretia Mott--Lucy Stone--were Abolition organizers before they were Suff organizers
        • Idea of Woman's Rights--the right to vote being just one--grows out of the themes of human rights central to the Abolitionist argument.
  • Abolition and woman suffrage were sibling causes thru the Civil War
      • until a bitter break during Reconstruction, when women were left out of the voting rights of the 14th and 15th Amendments. They were told the nation couldn't handle two major reforms at once.
      • it was not The Woman's Hour--they would have to wait.
      • Heartbreaking split: Stanton and Anthony refused to support the 14th and 15th Amendments--since women were excluded.
        • ECS: "If that word male be inserted-- in the 14th Amend--it will take us at least a century to get it out ."
        • Almost right: would take more than 50 years.
      • In anger--ECS/SBA express vile, racist sentiments--against black and immigrant men--not as well educated as they were. Could vote simply because were men.
      • Race remained a divisive aspect of the quest for woman suffrage—used by proponents AND espec. Opponents of women's right to vote
    • In the years following Seneca Falls tens of thousands of dedicated suffragists waged over 900 local, state, and national campaigns to win the ballot.
      • They travelled hundreds of thousands of miles to--as Susan Anthony described it-- organize. educate. and agitate--in tiny towns and big cities across the nation. (WAGON/Car)
      • They had to change hearts and minds--about woman's role in society-- before they could change laws.
      • A stupendous feat of organization, w/o any of the travel or communication tools we take for granted today:
        • when the movement began, passenger trains were in their infancy, the telegraph has only recently been invented, there was no typewriter, no telephone.
        • Even in 1920 radio wasn't yet in use.
        • As one young woman in my publisher's office exclaimed: how did they do all this w/o Facebook?
      • They did. They held meetings, rallies, and marched--which was not considered proper for women to do. (MEET)(Rally) (March—3)
      • They didn't wear Pussy Hats, but they did wear their Marching uniforms--white dresses w. yellow sashes. (VIKING)
      • Here is CCC leading a march in NYC (CCC)
  • Today, Hard to imagine how difficult –how brave a woman had to be to stand up publicly for political equality.
    • Suffs endured contempt and ridicule--in their communities, their churches, in the press. (DO TO)(HOME-STREET)
    • They were pelted with rotten eggs and spoiled vegetables-- attacked by mobs of angry men, denounced as--radicals, perverts, traitors, anarchists, bad wives and mothers, even Bolsheviks. CCC often called a Communist.
    • They were derided as unattractive, un-sexed, "She-Men". The men who supported them were belittled as "Mabels" and "Nancys". (UGLIES--2)
    • Clearly--they were frightening. (ANTI--4)
  • The Suffragists were ingenious--and fearless: (DARE)
    • On the very day that CCC came to realize her mother could not vote--SBA was committing civil disobedience to challenge that.
    • To test the state prohibitions against women voting, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and about 150 other women actually voted in the 1872 pres. election.
    • She was soon arrested, put on trial, and convicted of "illegal voting."
    • "Is it a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote"--she protested.
      • Still asking that Q today
  • Failure of this voting experiment--led to ECS and SBA draft a Constitutional Amendment that would supercede all state laws prohibiting women from voting
  • Introduced into Congress in 1878. Stalled there for 40 years.
    • Every year Suff would go to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress:
    • The Amendment was voted down --in committee or on the floor of House and Senate--28 times.
  • Meanwhile, suffragists worked in the States: which control election laws for their residents

IOWA:

  • Iowa women began agitating for the vote very early--in 1854.
    • with a pause during the Civil War, activity resumed in 1869 when the 15th Amend was being considered for ratification by the Iowa legislature.
      • and Iowa State Suffrage Assn formed. (PIN)
      • Since women had been left out of the 15th, Iowa Suffragists pushed for the legislatue to place the question of whether women should vote on a state referendum ballot.
      • The legislature agreed to submit the question to voters. But state law required the legislature to approve such a measure twice--in 2 consecutive sessions.
      • Suffrage advocates worked hard to solidify support when the leg took up the proposition again in 1872--and everything looked promising: the Governor supported it, the House passed it again, the Senate was poised to give it a thumbs up.
      • But in the final vote, Senate support had suddenly evaporated. The bill died.
    • Iowa Suffs tried again in 1874: the same thing happened; the Senate promised to pass the measure, then mysteriously changed its mind at the last minute and voted it down.
    • They tried again in 1878. Like Groundhog Day--it was defeated in the same way.
    • In 1900 Iowa Suffragists presented the legislature with a petition signed by 100,000 state citizens, urging a referendum on woman suffrage. It made little difference.
    • 1909. 1911. No luck. (IOWA 5)
    • Finally, in 1916, the legislature agreed to submit the question of woman suffrage to the voters of Iowa. The male voters--only men could decide if women deserved the vote.
    • This time, The Suffragists campaign was overmatched by the opposition--which appeared to be well financed by liquor interests, who did not want women voting, lest they support "dry" policies, and caught in the cross-winds of party politics.
    • In any case, it went down to defeat--the Suffs suspected dirty tricks.
      • they asked for a new election, but this didn't happen.
  • The women of Iowa had been working for 50 years, and it became abundantly clear that their only hope--
    • But still stuck in Congress
  • The slow pace of progress—in Congress, and in the states, stirred frustration and anger amongst suffragists.
      • A new generation of suffragists—the third—grew impatient—no longer willing to wait—to plead politely.
    • Willing to be aggressive—rude--definitely un-lady-like. Willing to even break the law.
    • The movement split. As reform movements often do—over strategy and tactics.
    • Young Quaker woman named Alice Paul—trained w. more radical Pankhursts in
      • left mainstream Carries' NAWSA to create a rival Suff organization, NWP
        • pursue more aggressive tactics--picketing the White House, heckling President Wilson and other politicians, even burning the Pres in effigy outside the gates of the WH.
      • tactics CCC believed were dangerous to the suffrage cause.
  • Worried and dispirited--the Women of the National American drafted CCC to return to the presidency--she'd had a short stint as SBA's chosen successor from 1900 to 1904, but left to tend her ailing 2nd husband.
    • Now the National Suffs pleaded with her to lead them out of the doldrums. (PREZ PIN)
      • She knew how to plan--and organize--and lead.
  • She had the natural gifts of a leader: a brilliant orator, skilled strategist, saavy politician.
    • she was both an idealist and a pragmatist.
    • women loved to work under her, men respected her. Some even feared her. A useful combo.
  • And--she always had a Plan.
    • When she reluctantly accepted the presidency once again in 1915, she immediately announced her Winning Plan (CCC 5)
      • a dual-track approach to win a few more crucial, populous states --to pressure Congress into passing the 19th Amendment.
    • She, and her suffrage and personal partner--Mollie Hay--designed and executed a campaign which won the vote for NY state women in 1917. (VOTING)
      • It was a pivotal win. It proved woman suffrage had broad popular support.
      • It made Congress pay attention.
  • By this time America was at war--and C. had to guide her suffragists through this national emergency.
    • She was a pacifist. She was a founder of the Women's Peace Party, which objected to American entry into The Great War.
      • One of the reasons she worked for woman suff was because she believed that if women were involved in gov't they would no longer allow slaughter as a method for resolving disputes. Women were the path to world peace.
      • but she also realized that it was important to prove the Suff's patriotism, their civic responsibility, their claim on the vote.
      • In one of the most painful coneessions of her life--she pledged to President Wilson that she and the 2 million members of the National American would do all they could to support the war effort.
      • She paid a steep price: she was denounced by her pacifist colleagues, thrown out of the Peace Party. (PICKETS)
      • Alice Paul and the WP refused to support the war--and picketed against it, with signs that pointed to the hypocrisy of fighting a war "to make the world safe for democracy" when half of the citizens of the nation could not take part in that democracy.
    • Hundreds of Woman's Party suffragists were arrested and served time in prison for their civil disobedience--tortured and force-fed. (CELL)
    • While AP and the NP were in jail
      • CCC's support of the war opened the WH doors for her, where she personally lobbied Woodrow Wilson to support the Federal Amendment
      • Wilson finally did, in fall 1918.
        • Scholars believe it was due to a combination of women's participation in war effort--CCC's cajoling--and AP 's public shamings.
  • House passed the Amendment in January 1918. Senate stalled for another 1.5 years.
    • Finally passed both houses of Congress in June 1919.
    • Carrie celebrated by dancing a jig. Literally.
      • but she also knew that the next, perhaps even tougher fight awaited: The fight for ratification of the Amendment in all 48 states.
  • All this while: CCC was developing her idea for a LWV.
    • The Lg was CCC's great dream for American democracy
      • but CCC wasn't just a dreamer of utopian dreams
      • She was a dreamer w. a detailed 25 point plan.
      • Visionary with a blueprint and timetable. A believer in the power of inspiration coupled w. perspiration.
  • She'd been developing the idea of the LWV for decades
  • CCC was many things—a charismatic leader, a skilled diplomat, a canny politician—but she was most fundamentally—and always--a teacher.
  • She began her career as a school teacher
    • From time first came active in movement--travelling the country w. SBA-- she was appalled by how little women knew of most elementary rules of parliamentary procedure--how to run a meeting--or how a bill becomes law. They'd never had the oppty to run such meetings.
  • In 1895 she developed a political science training course, to teach women these skills.
  • When she led the Empire State Campaign for suff in NY State —she began Suffrage Schools --classroom sessions to train organizers how to canvass, poll and campaign.
    • These Suffrage Schools spread around the country
  • Around 1917 she began Citizenship Schools—pop-up universities in cities and towns around the country—bringing in distinguished professors and suffrage campaign veterans to explain the ABC's of Amer history and democracy to women—and men—and immigrants.
    • --Out of this she developed a comprehensive civics curriculum---in 26 installments
    • --”Mrs. Catt's Citizenship Course”—published in WmCitz and syndicated in newspapers around country
      • The lessons were collected in book form—best seller
    • You can see—she was test driving the basic model of the Lg.
  • Looking ahead—to When women finally won the ballot—
    • 27 million women would be eligible to vote.
  • --she envisioned a strong women's lobby to press for legislation benefitting women and families--at national and local levels.
    • Before that could be achieved—women needed to learn how to use the vote.
    • Teach them how to Make Democracy Work. (CC BOARD)
  • From the beginning—even at its birth--The LWV was controversial.
    • --It was to be political---but non-partisan. Always a tricky balance—as you well know.
    • --It was to be a womens politcal org—but outside of the political parties—so politicians were very wary of it..
  • Carrie Catt never shied from controversy: She urged the new-born League to be bold:
    • ”The danger is that the LWV is going to be too timid and too conservative.
      • she told her women on Feb 14, 1920, as the NAWSA transformed itself into the LWV:
      • ”If the LWV hasn't the vision to see what is coming and ought to come, and be five years ahead of the political parties, I don't think it is worth having.
    • On that day 100 years to the day--on the 100th anniversary of the birth of SBA--Carrie Catt summoned her suffragists to look to the future: (VOTE SELF)
      • “Never forget that first you are an American, and secondly that you stand for a radicalism of a constructive, building nature.”
      • But as she uttered these words, as she proclaimed the birth of the LWV, in fact, the 19th Amend was not yet ratified.
        • And no guarantee that it would be.
      • During spring of 1920—there nothing but rejections:
      • By summer 1920 35 states had ratified, 36--or 3/4 of the 48 states in the Union at the time-- were required for ratification. Only one more state was needed.
        • Tennessee could be the 36th. (MAP)
          • But CCC knew Tenn was a dangerous place to stage the definitive battle for woman suffrage.
          • Nearly all the other southern states had already rejected the Amendment--racist rationale: states rights, and they did not want black women to vote.
          • Suffs faced an uphill battle in Tenn--But they had no choice. Tenn was their last best chance.
        • So all the forces for and ag.woman suffrage, gathered in Nashville. (CC NVILE)
          • CCC took the train from NY to spend 6 miserable weeks in N'ville--directing the strategy for the ratification campaign.
          • Kept in virtual house arrest--she so controversial, not allowed out of her hotel room
          • The leaders of the Anti-suffragists were there too.
            • And more than a thousand politicians, legislators, corporate lobbyists, and journalists.
      • There were powerful forces working against ratification in Tenn: political, corporate, and ideological foes, each with their own reasons for opposing the Amendment.
        • Politicians who feared an unpredictable new voting bloc
        • Clergymen who believed that women voting went against the will of God--who'd purposefully made Eve subservient to Adam
        • Corporations that believed women would be bad for business
          • The textile manufacturers were afraid women voters might want to abolish child labor--and the mills rely on that cheap labor. (NO)
          • The liquor industry--feared that women voters will insist on strict enforcement of the new Prohibition laws
          • The liquor lobby sponsored a speakeasy on the 8th floor of the Hermitage Hotel-- came to be known as the Jack Daniels Suite-
        • But the most passionate foes of the 19th Amendment turned out to be--women.
        • That women might oppose their own enfranchisement was shocking to me.
          • Many of these women were Social and religious conservatives who feared that suffrage would bring about a profound, unhealthy shift in gender roles, (FEM)
          • endanger the American home, and bring about the moral collapse of the nation
          • It would alter private life, not just political life.
      • This is an important reminder that the debate over woman suffrage was never just a political argument, it was also a social, cultural, and moral debate about women's role in society.
        • a precursor to what we know call the "culture wars."
      • All sides confront one another in Nashville: And it gets wild:
        • There's bribes and booze, propaganda and blackmail, conspiracies and kidnappings and fist fights.
          • The newspapers call it Suffrage Armageddon
        • The outcome remains in doubt until the very last moment. I won't spoil it for you.
        • Comes down to a single vote of conscience. From the youngest member of the legislature. Who receives a letter from his mother.
        • All this took place almost a century ago--but you'll find TWH is a book of history with suprising--even unnerving-- modern themes.
        • It helps explain where we've been--and where we are---today.
        • Deals with Topics which dominate our headlines right now:
        • Voting rights and voter suppression//Women's rights./ Inequality/ Dark money in politics /The role of religion in public policy.
        • And racism. Because the history of suffrage in America is inevitably a story about race.
          • In Nashville there are cries of White Supremacy and States Rights. The KuKluxKlan is invoked as a dog-whistle. And the Confederate Flag is waved in defiance. (HQ)
        • I wrote this book before the 2016 Pres. Election, and, this story of the suffragists' long fight for democracy --and the final battle in Nashville-- has taken on layers of meaning I could not have anticipated.
        • This history of citizens fighting for their rights enters a new dimension as rights they assumed were secure-- (At Last)
          • voting rights, citizenship rights, press freedom, women's rights--appear to be endangered once again.
      • And this history of women political leaders and activists—rings a bell as an historic number women run for office—at every level—and more elected to Congress—131--than ever before.

      There are important lessons to be learned from the fight for woman suffrage:

        • that social change is slow and political change is hard.
        • That the struggle to expand our democracy is ongoing.
          • It was not accomplished in 1920; it's not complete today:
            • While the 19th Amend gave the vote to ALL women, black women—and men, Asian women and Native Am would have to wait decades longer to secure their voting rights. (WM HERE)
        • It teaches us that reform movements are imperfect: The story of woman's suffrage is both an inspiring and a cautionary tale. It's complicated. It's messy. There are moral compromises made to achieve success.
        • I hope the story of TWH will teach a new generation of activists that protest is patriotic--and necessary--but it must be followed up by well designed and sustained political strategies.
          • The Suffs did not just march and picket--they debated, lobbied, drafted legislation, and campaigned.
          • They did not rest after 19th Amend entered the Const: (LWV)
          • AP drafted the ERA. Intro into Congress in 1923. Still not ratified.
        • CCC founded the LWV--she served as honorary president for the rest of her life, bu allowed a new generation of young leaders to take the helm
      • The Vote is a Prayer--as Carrie Catt described it.
      • The Vote is Power.
      • Today--we must protect the vote--for all citizens.
          • we cannot—and should not—accept attempts to restrict, or suppress voting.
          • Voting rights is NOT a partisan issue. It is the stress test of the health of our democracy.
          • We must not fail that test.
        • As we face a new onslaught of threats to our democratic foundations
          • the work of the Lg is our best defense.
          • We need the Lg more than ever—for the next century. (SUPER LWV)
        • When CCC returned home from Nashville , she wrote a letter to American women....a benediction and a charge--which I find as meaningful today as when she wrote it--almost a century ago:

        “The vote is the emblem of your equality, women of America, the guarantee of your liberty. That vote of yours has cost millions of dollars and the lives of thousands of women. Women have suffered agony of soul which you can never comprehend, that you and your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it! The vote is a power, a weapon of offense and defense, a prayer. Understand what it means and what it can do for your country. Use it intelligently, conscientiously, prayerfully. The vote is won. Seventy-two years the battle for this privilege has been waged, but human affairs with their eternal change move on without pause. Progress is calling to you to make no pause. Act!”