from Jane Cox
Iowa State University
One hundred sixty-two years ago today, January 9, Carrie Chapman Catt was born. Among other accomplishments she founded the League of Women Voters (fighting intense opposition to do so) and co-founded the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in 1904 (now known as the International Alliance of Women).
On her seventieth birthday in 1929 a luncheon was given in her honor. Among those speaking was Maud Wood Park, the first President of the LWV. Her remarks on that day are in the Library of Congress and read as follows:
Knowing that I was going to be here, I brought an extract of a letter which Mrs. Catt wrote to me twenty-five years ago. Once, when we were preparing press notices, I wrote to ask her for biographical material. She replied: ‘I hardly know what to tell you about myself for use in the papers. I do not think there is much to say about me except that I have given my life to the suffrage work and that I have performed all the various obligations which an enlistment in the Cause puts upon one. I have opened the doors of churches and halls and lighted the kerosene lamps; attended the babies while the meeting was in progress; made the speech; taken the collection; pronounced the benediction; organized the Club or Committee, etc., etc., and have held all the offices imaginable from Club President up and down and sideways. As I look back upon it, this seems to be a record of annual and even weekly drudgery, doing each day what the cause seemed to demand of me, but I do not perceive in that record any glorious heroism or headlines to attract public attention. If you find any ,it will be due to your imagination.’
Park then added, “You are the greatest chief we have ever known.”
Heroism has been defined in many ways. Joseph Campbell defined a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” I like the definition, “Heroism is endurance for one moment more.” However, it is defined, Carrie Chapman Catt possessed those qualities whether she saw herself that way or not. Happy Birthday to Carrie!