Carrie Chapman Catt

Presidential Address at the 3rd IWSA Conference - Aug. 8, 1906

Carrie Chapman Catt
August 08, 1906— Copenhagen, Denmark
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In 1902, the National-American Woman Suffrage Association, invited all National woman suffrage societies which existed at that date, to send an accredited delegate to attend a mass meeting which should be held in Washington D. C., to consider the feasibility of organizing an International Woman Suffrage Association. This meeting was held in February, and six national suffrage associations were represented, namely: Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America. Australia had no national association, but sent a delegate, several of the State societies contributing to a fund which was raised to assist her in paying the expenses of the long and costly journey from Melbourne to Washington. Where no suffrage organization had as yet been formed, National Councils of Women and American Consulates were consulted, in the effort to find representative women who sympathized with the movement for the enfranchisement of women. As a result of such correspondence, one delegate each was present from Chili, Russia and Turkey; and many reports upon the civil, educational and industrial status of women, were secured. Some of these possess much historical value. All such reports, in abridged form, were printed, together with the transactions, and have thus been preserved.

This meeting voted to form an international union of national woman suffrage societies; but in order that each association entering into such alliance, should have opportunity to approve the basis of organization before it should be finally adopted, it was agreed to form a temporary organization only, without dues, and to complete the work at a second meeting which should be held in Berlin, in June 1901. Susan B. Anthony was made chairman of the temporary body which was called the International Woman Suffrage Committee; Dr. jur. Anita Augspurg was made Vice-Chairman and Carrie Chapman Catt, Secretary. As there were to be no dues, there was no Treasurer. By the vote of the Washington meeting, each organized country was asked to name a committee of three, which should act as official correspondents for that country; and ten countries were thus united with the temporary association: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands, and the United States. Such Committees acted in the capacity of mediums of communication between the International Committee and the association represented. Through them, a constitution in which was embodied the complete plan for organization, was submitted to each National Suffrage Association, and delegates to the Berlin meeting, therefore, came with the advice and instruction of their respective societies.

At the Berlin meeting, seven national woman suffrage associations were represented by regularly appointed delegates: Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United States. Visitors from Switzerland, New Zealand, Austria and Hungary were made members of the convention and were permitted to join freely in the discussion, until the constitution should be adopted.

When this had taken place, a roll of the nations represented was called, and the delegates from Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, The Netherlands and the United States pledged affiliation with the new organization, now called the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. The name of Australia was also added to the list, as the secretary reported the desire of the suffragists there to form a national association and to enter the Alliance as soon as it should be formed. The delegates present from Norway, explained that while they did not doubt that the Norwegian suffrage association would wish to become a member of the Alliance, they did not feel authorized to pledge its affiliation until a conference could be had with the other members of their association. Some of the delegates from Denmark urged the impropriety of joining the Alliance since the Danish Woman Suffrage Society had only worked for municipal suffrage. The election of officers, which followed, was therefore participated in by delegates from five countries only. Four of these five are represented on the official board. That Sweden is not also represented, must be due to the fact that her delegates proposed no candidate.

Soon after the adjournment of the Alliance, some belated delegates from Norway arrived, and the expected conference took place. The report was at once made to the officers of the Alliance, that the Norwegian Suffrage Association wished to become a member. The majority of the delegates from Denmark having conferred together, likewise expressed a desire to enter the Alliance, and pledged themselves that the Association would declare itself for full suffrage. These two applications were presented to the officers yet remaining in Berlin, and the majority having voted to accept them, these two associations became members. Thus, before leaving Berlin, every Suffrage Association in the world which could in any sense be called national, except perhaps that of Canada, had entered into the Alliance, and the number of countries represented was eight.

0ur official board.

Our Assistant Secretary, Miss Johanna Naber, was obliged to resign her post during the first year of service, owing to the pressure or her literary duties. Miss Naber is a gifted woman and we cannot do otherwise than feel her resignation as a loss to our official board, yet it is a great satisfaction that the Dutch Association could so ably fill the position, thus made vacant, by the appointment of Miss Martina Kramers. Her calm, clear judgment and broad intelligence, render her a strength to any executive board.

Since last we met, our cause has sustained a signal loss in the death of our Honorary President, Susan B. Anthony. She has been the inspirer of our movement in many lands, and we may justly say that her labors belonged to all the world. She passed in the ripeness of years, and with a life behind her which counted not a wasted moment, nor a selfish thought. When one thinks of her, it must be with the belief that she was born and lived to perform an especial mission. All who knew her well, mourn her, and long will they miss her wise counsel, her hearty cheerfulness, and her splendid optimism. There has been no important national suffrage meeting in the U. S. for 50 years, and no International meeting of significance at any time in which she was not a conspicuous figure. This is the first to meet without her. We must hope that her spirit will be with us and inspire all our deliberations with the same lofty, purpose and noble energy which governed all her labors. But I shall not speak of her now, since we shall all pronounce our words of appreciation on Wednesday.

Work of the Alliance.

The meeting in Berlin was far too brief to form a definite and well planned program of action for the Alliance. To complete the organization and elect the officers, was all that could be accomplished in the time we had permitted for our meeting. We came together as strangers; the point of view, and the experience of each body of delegates naturally differed from every other; the many languages created a "Confusion of tongues", too, which prevented a quick understanding. We did not yet know what work the International Organization could do most effectively, nor how we could best help each other. With all these obstacles, we did well to agree upon a basis of organization and to become united at all. We have been wise, I think, to move slowly and cautiously.

The Board of Officers, having no definite program to follow, has expended its effort in the attempt to secure additional organizations. The correspondence in regard to this object was divided among the officers. While the results are, as yet, rather meagre, and even these cannot all be claimed as the direct effect of our official labor, yet there is certainly evidence of progress.

The Dominion Woman's Enfranchisement Association, which has been a somewhat dormant factor in Canadian affairs, has determined to assume new enterprise, and as a proof of its intention it has joined the Alliance. A small, but resolute Hungarian Woman Suffrage Association, has been formed and has become a part of the Alliance. Thus our numbers have been increased by two National Suffrage Associations. A National Australian Woman's Political Association has been formed, through the never ceasing intelligent effort of Miss Vida Goldstein, the leader in Victoria, and its first President; and the pledge of the Australian Suffragists made for them by the Secretary at Berlin, has been fulfilled.

In other lands there has been much activity in our cause, and there is abundant promise that ere long we shall be able to welcome several new National Associations into our membership.

ln Italy, Suffragists presented a petition to the last Parliament, and organizations have been effected in several cities, and we have the pleasure of receiving a delegate from this new movement. Before another meeting of the Alliance shall take place, we hope these organizations will have united in a National Association, and will then send delegates as members of the Alliance.

Italy is the cradle in which all modern civilization had its beginning, and her history belongs to all the world. Looking backward, we note the period in the early centuries, when women enjoyed great personal liberty, and were renowned for their intelligence and their influence. Then followed many centuries of restriction, during which rights and privileges were few, and history had little to say of women. Again, in the 12th and 13th centuries, there was an awakening among women, and a loosening of the bonds which had bound them in what seemed to be perpetual tutelage. They entered the Universities, and even had places of high honor in the Faculties. Many were famed for their achievements in learning, mathematics and philosophy. But in 1377, the Faculty of the University of Bologna decreed:

"And whereas woman is the foundation of sin, the weapon of the devil, the cause of man's banishment from Paradise, and whereas, for these reasons, all association with her is to be diligently avoided, therefore do we interdict and expressly forbid that anyone presume to introduce in the said college any woman whatsoever, however honorable she be. And if anyone should perpetrate such an act, he shall be severely punished."

That decree not only closed that University; but the theory upon which it was founded, viz, that women were responsible for the presence of sin in the world, and also for its perpetuation closed all universities of Italy and Spain. More, it condemned all education for women. Under this terrible mandate, generation after generation of women, endowed with great abilities, were compelled to live and die in the darkness of ignorance. It is with great rejoicing, therefore, that we welcome the recent uprising in Italy, the land where this nefarious theory was first pronounced, and where it, perhaps, has been most heavily oppressive to its women. The many illustrious names in previous periods of liberty, give ample proof of the native intelligence, spirit, and patriotism of Italian women. In demanding the citizen's right of self-government, they are only asking for liberty which was once the possession of their ancestors. All hail! to those brave, noble souls in Italy! Whatever of encouragement and help the Alliance can extend to them, shall surely be freely given.

In Austria, women presented to the Parliament last winter a petition for suffrage, and supported their claims by a well written, logical argument in the form of a memorial. Just now, men are attempting to secure an extension of suffrage for themselves, and it is to be hoped that women will not forget to urge their claims at the same time. Altho' quite contrary to what we should expect, experience seems to prove that whenever one class of people secure liberty for themselves, they become forgetful of those still in bondage. The opportunity should arouse the women of Austria, and should lead to the organization of a national woman suffrage association. Let us hope that it will.

In Switzerland, some groups of suffragists have at last found each other and there is a little beginning of organization which will probably develop into a national movement, although there is no evidence of particular activity there. However, the work has been begun — time will do the rest.

In France, there are several groups of women which are working for different phases of the rights of women, but there is no national body, and as yet, Protestant and Catholic women, apparently do not work together. The President of the Woman's Council, Mlle. Monod now writes us to say that we may hope a National Suffrage Association will be formed before our next meeting. The Secretary of the French Women's Catholic League writes also to express sympathy with our cause, and several of the Protestant bodies have appointed Mlle. Martin as their accredited delegate in this meeting. We therefore, are justified in the expectation that at our next meeting, we shall welcome regular delegates from a National French Association.

We may pause here to note the curious fact that in the only Republics of Europe, France and Switzerland, the movement for woman suffrage is less advanced than in any of the Northern Monarchies. In these two countries, men have long had the benefits of self-government, without any of the restrictions, which the Monarchy is supposed to impose, and without the complication of discrimination in favor of large property owners. Why have such men neglected to extend the suffrage to women, and why have women failed to unite in a movement to urge their claims to these privileges? In the same connection, we may note that the liberal and progressive colonies of Monarchical England, Australia and New Zealand, have led the world in the movement for the enfranchisement of women; and even England herself, bids fair to have gained full suffrage long before the United States of America, which was the first to formulate the claim of self-government for all, shall have extended political rights to women. The explanation for this surprising contradiction of what would seem to be natural development must be left to future writers upon the Evolution of Government. There is, however, a lesson in it, which all may learn even now; and that is that the most propitious time for women to urge their own enfranchisement, is before all suffrage rights have been gained for men.

During the past year, two of our officers, Mrs. Avery and Miss Kramers, have visited Belgium in the interests of the Suffrage, and each has spoken there. As a result, it is believed, that a small nucleus of friends has been found, which will develop into an organization.

Glad as we all arc to welcome these evidences of progress, yet I am sure our hearts quicken with even greater joy at the knowledge that the women of Russia have united their forces in a union to defend the Rights of Women, and that a delegation has come to take its place among us. The world has long prophesied that, sooner or later, an uprising must come in Russia, and the system which has so long denied the right of free speech and personal liberty to the people would be overthrown. Now that that time has come, it is a great satisfaction to know that the women of that country are neither forgetting their own future, nor permitting others to forget it. There is every reason to believe that when the full rights of self-government have been bestowed upon Russian men, the same rights will be given to Russian women. It is said, that those who suffer most, will enjoy most. If this be true, we may expect the liberty to come to the women of Russia before it comes to those of other lands. It is our hope that it may come speedily. Meanwhile, we extend the band of friendly greeting to the Women's Union and assure its members of our sympathy, of our confidence in them, and or our belief in their ultimate success. Two years ago in Berlin, we would not have predicted that this great society would have sprung up in so brief a time, and would now be sending its delegates to our meeting. Its growth has surprised us, but it has filled our hearts with gladness. We welcome the Union of Russian Women as a family might welcome daughters who had long been shut away in prison. We have not been permitted to know our Russian sisters, but we love them; we are unacquainted with their program, yet we understand it. We recognize them as comrades in our common cause. All hail to these heroines of Russia, for such they are, and may the dove of liberty soon perch upon their banners! Their victory will be our victory, for we labor not for ourselves or the women of our own nations, but for the freedom of the women of all the world.

These events of the past two years are sufficient evidence of progress to satisfy the most restless and ambitious one among us, but something greater than all this has happened. We have been like an army climbing slowly and laboriously up a steep, difficult and rocky mountain. We have looked upward, and have found uncertain stretches of time and effort between us and the longed for summit. We have not been discouraged, for behind us lies fifty years of marvellous achievement. We have known that we should reach that goal, but we have also known that there was no way to do it but to plod on patiently, step by step. Yet suddenly, almost without warning, we see upon that summit another army. How came it there? It has neither descended from heaven, nor climbed the long, hard journey. Yet there above us, all the women of Finland stand today. Each wears the royal crown of the sovereignty of the self-governing citizen. Two years ago, these women would not be permitted by the law to organize a woman suffrage association. A year later, they did organize a woman suffrage committee, and before it is yet a year old, its work is done. The act, giving full suffrage, including eligibility to all offices, has been bestowed upon them by the four Chambers of Parliament, with but one dissenting vote, and the Czar has approved the measure. Metaphorically, a glad shout of joy has gone up from the whole body of suffragists the world over. No Finnish woman can be more glad than we. To the women of all other lands, we have said: "Let us help you"; to the women or Finland, we must say: "Come and help us. You have won your victory more easily than you can possibly know. Do not forget the army struggling upward." Do they ask "How can we help?", we answer: By making your suffrage worthy of the best and highest womanhood; by insisting upon honesty and nobility in your politics; by forgetting personalities and petty things, and clinging always to the high ideal; by proving that politics does not demoralize the home, but that the home ennobles politics; by demonstrating that the mother is a wiser parent when she is likewise a free citizen, and lastly; by showing that the home is indeed a "Unit of society", a "Bulwark of a nation's greatness" when within it there is a queen as well as a king, whose sceptres are of equal power.

We can certainly find much cause for encouragement in the events of the past two years, and may well feel that our Alliance came into existence at the exact moment to be of use to our cause. In the period of 1848 there was a very general enfranchisement of men; now, after half a century, we are apparently in the midst of another movement which will only end when it has effected many changes in the suffrage for men. "One man one vote" is the war cry of the new movement. It is important that women should be alive to the opportunity this time may afford. Whatever may be the program of future effort adopted by this Conference, I feel that we must not neglect to extend every encouragement and help within our power to perfect the national organizations in Austria, Belgium, Italy, France and Switzerland and to encourage agitation, education, and organization in every land. The enfranchisement of women upon the same terms as men is as certain to come as the sun is sure to rise tomorrow. The time must depend upon political conditions, and the energy and intelligence with which the movement is conducted. "The future belongs to us".

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