Carrie Chapman Catt

Woman Suffrage Activist

Carrie Chapman Catt, 1920s
Carrie Chapman Catt, 1920s. Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images

About Carrie Chapman Catt:

Known for: suffrage movement leader, founder of the League of Women Voters
Occupation: activist, reformer, teacher, reporter
Dates: January 9, 1859 - March 9, 1947

More About Carrie Chapman Catt:

Born Carrie Clinton Lane in Ripon, Wisconsin, and raised in Iowa, her parents were farmers Lucius Lane and Maria Clinton Lane.

She trained as a teacher, briefly studied law, and was appointed a high school principal a year after graduation from Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). At college she joined a society for public speaking, which had been closed to women, and she organized a debate about women's suffrage, an early indication of her future intersts.

In 1883, two years later, she became Superintendent of Schools in Mason City. She married newspaper editor and publisher Leo Chapman, and became co-editor of the newspaper. After her husband was accused of criminal libel, the Chapmans moved to California in 1885. Just after arrival, and while his wife was on her way to join him, he caught typhoid fever and died, leaving his new wife to make her own way. She found work as a newspaper reporter.

She soon joined the woman suffrage movement as a lecturer, moved back to Iowa where joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In 1890 she was a delegate at the newly formed National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Marriage and Suffrage Work

In 1890 she married wealthy engineer George W. Catt whom she had originally met in college and then met again during her time in San Francisco. They signed a prenuptial agreement which guaranteed her two months in the spring and two in the fall for her suffrage work. He supported her in these efforts, considering that his role in the marriage was to earn their living and hers was to reform society. They had no children.

National and International Suffrage Role

Her effective organizing work brought her quickly into the inner circles of the suffrage movement. Carrie Chapman Catt became head of field organizing for the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1895 and in 1900, having earned the trust of the leaders of that organization, including Susan B. Anthony, was elected to succeed Anthony as President.

Four years later Catt resigned the presidency to care for her husband, who died in 1905. (Rev. Anna Shaw then served as NAWSA president.) Carrie Chapman Catt was a founder and president of the International Woman Suffrage Association, serving from 1904 to 1923 and until her death as honorary president.

In 1915 Catt was re-elected to the presidency of the NAWSA, succeeding Anna Shaw, and led the organization in fighting for suffrage laws at both the state and federal level. She opposed the efforts of the newly-active Alice Paul to hold Democrats in office responsible for the failure of woman suffrage laws, and to work only at the federal level for a constitutional amendment. This split resulted in Paul's faction leaving the NAWSA and forming the Congressional Union, later the Woman's Party.

Role in Final Passage of Suffrage Amendment

Her leadership was key in the final passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920: without the state reforms -- an increased number of states in which women could vote in primary elections and regular elections -- the 1920 victory could not have been won.

Also key was the bequest in 1914 of Mrs. Frank Leslie (Miriam Folline Leslie) of nearly a million dollars, given to Catt to support the suffrage effort.

Beyond Suffrage

Carrie Chapman Catt was also one of the founders of the Women's Peace Party during World War I, helped to organize the League of Women Voters after the passage of the 19th Amendment (she served the League as honorary president until her death). She also supported the League of Nations after World War I and the founding of the United Nations after World War II. Between the wars, she worked for Jewish refugee relief efforts and for child labor protection laws. When her husband died, she went to live with a long-time friend, suffragist Mary Garrett Hay. They moved to New Rochelle, New York, where Catt died in 1947.

When measuring the organizational contributions of the many workers for woman suffrage, most would credit Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone with the most influence in winning the vote for American women. The effect of this victory was then felt worldwide, as women in other nations were inspired directly and indirectly to win the vote for themselves.

Recent Controversy

In 1995, when Iowa State University (Catt's alma mater) proposed to name a building after Catt, controversy broke out over racist statements that Catt had made in her lifetime, including stating that "white supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women's suffrage." The discussion highlights issues about the suffrage movement and its strategies to win support in the South.


  • husband: Leo Chapman (newspaper editor and publisher)
  • husband: George W. Catt (engineer)


  • Jacqueline Van Voris. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life. Trade Paperback 1996 (reprint of a 1987 title).
  • Mary G. Peck. Carrie Chapman Catt, Pioneers of the Woman's Movement. Hardcover.
  • Frances Laurence. Maverick Women: 19th Century Women Who Kicked over the Traces. 1998. (includes Carrie Chapman Catt)