Women's History Month.
DATE OF BIRTH: January 9, 1859
PLACE OF BIRTH: Ripon, Wisconsin
FAMILY BACKGROUND: Carrie Clinton Lane was the second of three children (the only daughter) born to Lucius and Maria (Clinton) Lane. Her parents were both high school graduates (unusual for that time) from West Potsdam, New York, and migrated west in 1855 soon after their wedding. They first lived in Cleveland, Ohio, with Lucius buying a partnership in a coal business. They found they didn’t like city life so they moved to Ripon, Wisconsin, where Lucius worked as a farmer. In 1866, when Carrie was seven years old, they moved to Charles City, Iowa.
EDUCATION: Carrie attended elementary education in a one-room schoolhouse in Charles City. In 1877, she graduated from high school. Her father refused to provide the money for more education so Carrie taught school for a year, earning enough income to enter Iowa State Agricultural College. During her two years there, she supported herself working in the state library and the college kitchen. She graduated in 1880 – the only woman among 18 graduates.
She aspired to become a lawyer so she began reading law in an attorney’s offices in Charles City. The next year, she began teaching high school in Mason City, Iowa, with the intent of earning enough money to study law at the university. However, she found she enjoyed teaching so much she gave up the idea of becoming a lawyer. Less than two years later, she was appointed principal and superintendent of Mason City schools.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: When Carrie was 13 years old, she asked why her mother was not getting dressed up to go to town to vote like her father and his hired man. Her sincere question was met with laughter and the reason that voting was too important a civic duty to leave to women. That day was to be a turning point in her life. Another important point came in high school when she was introduced to Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.” Already skeptical of traditional religion, yet retaining faith in human potential, Carrie embraced this philosophy – seeing evolutionary science as offering the idea of a constantly evolving and improving world, moving toward a free and peaceful society. Both of these events laid the groundwork for Carrie’s life work.
On February 12, 1885, Carrie married Leo Chapman, editor of the Mason City Republican, and she resigned from teaching (as married women were not allowed to teach). She became his business partner, writing a “Woman’s World” column – but not about food or fashion, rather about women’s political and labor issues, and reminding women that if they wanted the vote, they needed to organize. After Leo harshly criticized a local Republican candidate in the paper, he was sued for libel and had to sell the newspaper. In May 1886, he went to San Francisco to find work. However, he caught typhoid fever. Carrie received a telegram about him and left immediately by train, but Leo died before she arrived. She was only 27 years old.
Left with no house or financial resources, Carrie decided to stay in San Francisco, finding work as a freelance journalist. She was barely making ends meet when one evening a male associate grabbed her and began kissing her. She managed to break away, but the assault left her feeling frightened and outraged – and determined to do something about the vulnerability of working women. She did, however, meet up with a former college student, George Catt, who had become a civil engineer with a bridge-building company. Possibly it was George who inspired Carrie to become a public lecturer, her next career. It was popular at the time and could provide a good living, so she prepared three speeches and, after hiring an agent, began perfecting them along the West Coast.
In 1887, Carried returned to Iowa and began her work for suffrage. She joined the Iowa branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, becoming head of its suffrage section. As that local group began breaking apart, she began organizing women and creating suffrage clubs. In 1889, she was elected secretary of the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association and, the next year, was a delegate and minor speaker at the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in Washington, D.C. (From 1869 until 1890, the women’s suffrage movement had been divided between two organizations – one headed by Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, and the other by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – which had differing methods of achieving their goal; they reconciled differences into NAWSA.)
On June 10, 1890, Carrie married George Catt in Seattle, Washington. This did not end her suffrage career. As she said, “My husband used to say that he was as much of a reformer as I, but that he couldn’t work at reforming and earn a living at the same time; but what he could do was to earn living enough for two and free me from all economic burden, and thus I could reform for two.” His work required him to travel about the country, so Carried also accompanied him, but she also traveled on her own to states before an upcoming vote on women’s suffrage, organizing women to campaign. Unfortunately, victory eluded the suffragists. In 1893, they had a major victory when Colorado became the first state, by vote, to allow women suffrage. (Wyoming was the only other state granting women the vote, when admitted into the Union in 1890 as a full-adult suffrage state.) Carrie worked tirelessly on the Colorado victory, as she did all across the country. When she became too exhausted and ill to lecture or travel, she wrote articles from her bed. George moved his business to New York in 1892.
In 1900, Susan B. Anthony, at 80 years old, retired as president of NAWSA and Carrie was elected her successor; a position she held until 1904. In 1902, in a speech before NAWSA, she said: http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/catt-car.htm
Source: Pageant of America Vol. 9: Makers of a New Nation, Bassett, John Spencer, Yale University Press (1928)© www.arttoday.com