Today is Election Day. One hundred years ago women did not have the right to vote in presidential elections. A fraternity woman, Carrie Lane Chapman Catt, an Iowa State Pi Beta Phi, was a leading force in the suffrage movement.Catt was born on January 9, 1859, in Ripon, Wisconsin. She enrolled at Iowa State University in the fall of 1876 and was an active member of what is today known as the Iowa Gamma Chapter of Pi Beta Phi which was chartered on May 11, 1877, only 10 years after the Fraternity was founded. She was the first initiate after the chapter’s chartering. She was a chapter officer. In addition, she worked washing dishes for nine cents an hour and in the library for ten cents an hour. She graduated from Iowa State in 1880 as valedictorian and she was the only woman in the class.
She utilized her Pi Beta Phi connections. In 1887, she wrote the Iowa Beta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi at Simpson College offering to speak in Indianola, the college’s home. She attended Pi Beta Phi’s 1890 convention in Galesburg, Illinois, and spoke about “The New Revolution.”
At the 1924 Eastern Conference of Pi Beta Phi, when the portrait of Vermont Beta and First Lady Grace Goodhue Coolidge was presented to the nation, she was the keynote speaker at the banquet. She was the first fraternity woman to receive Chi Omega’s National Achievement Award, a gold medal presented to a woman of notable accomplishment.
Catt was the President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900-04 and 1915-20. She was hand-picked by her predecessor, Susan B. Anthony. Catt’s brilliant organization and oratory is credited with making the 19th Amendment a reality.
At the 50th National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention held in St. Louis, as the organization’s President, Catt proposed the creation of a “league of women voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation.”
On February 14, 1920, in the Gold Room of the Chicago’s Congress Hotel, 520 South Michigan Avenue, hundreds of members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association gathered for a victory convention. They were anticipating the passage in Congress of the 19th Amendment. It had taken 72 years, but women finally had the right to vote. Catt called the session to order at 2:30 p.m. According to the Convention minutes, “joy unconfined burst forth. For three-quarters of an hour, horns tooted, state delegations stood on chairs, sang, gave their yells, formed in groups and marched around the room waving American flags. The Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey marched amicably arm in arm to the platform.” That evening, the organization was officially disbanded. A new and independent group, the League of Women Voters, was formed with political education as its focus.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/