Today, we're celebrating the birthday of our founder, Carrie Chapman Catt. One of the most influential leaders of the suffragist movement, Catt developed and implemented the state-by-state strategy that finally won women the right to vote 100 years ago.
Catt and her fellow suffragists did not rest after achieving passage of the 19th Amendment, however. With 20 million new eligible voters added to the electorate in a single day, they knew their work was just beginning.
So, they founded the League of Women Voters.
Their mission? Help these women get informed about candidates and issues, help them carry out their new right to vote, and hold the government accountable to its people.
A student of Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt defined a career of activism by breaking barriers. She was unwavering in her belief in the power of women, and relentless in her efforts to make the world recognize that power.
- Carrie Chapman Catt
Yet, as historical reflection often beckons us to do, we must examine our founders and learn from their faults.
The 19th Amendment did not expand voting rights for all women. It left in place the barriers that deliberately kept women of color from having an equal voice. And, unfortunately, that was by design.
Many suffrage leaders, including and especially Catt, appealed to the notion of white supremacy in their arguments for the passage of the 19th Amendment. This left Native women, African American women, Hispanic women, and Asian American women to continue fighting for their own right to vote well beyond 1920.
This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and next month the League of Women Voters turns 100 years old.
As we celebrate these milestones, we remain grateful for the opportunity to learn from the wrongs of our past, and to dedicate ourselves to correcting those wrongs in every action we take.
Our founder was far from perfect, but what she achieved changed the world. And today, we celebrate her.
The League is not only a direct outgrowth of the movement that secured women’s ability to participate in the American electoral process, it is also the product of early 20th Century progressive thinking that trusted facts and managerial expertise as a means to reform corrupt government institutions.