Carrie Catt and the Nineteenth Amendment

In 1920, immediately before passage of the Woman Suffrage amendment to the United States Constitution, the League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Lane Catt and her colleagues. The crusade for women’s voting rights spanned four generations, but the actual back story began long before the advent of recorded history.

Throughout most of human history and prehistory, women’s roles were played out mostly within their families. In public, especially in leadership positions, women’s roles were almost entirely subservient to those played by men. Before the advent of modern technology, most work involved physical muscle and physical skills developed almost exclusively by men and boys, and their preparation for adult behavior was reflected in physical sports and games. Though the Old Testament refers to the standard human life span as three score years and ten, the actual life expectancy was less than thirty years throughout the ancient world, which meant that women had to specialize intensely on child-bearing and child-rearing if the human species expected to survive, let alone flourish.

Looking back over the millennia, virtually all of the military and political leaders in every culture and every nation had been men, as were all the founders of the world’s major religions. In the Christian religion, the figure of Mary, a Jewish woman paradoxically believed to be the virgin mother of Jesus of Nazareth, was revered precisely because she was both a virgin and a nurturing mother, not because she exercised power or played anything like a leadership role. Eighteen centuries later, when the American Revolution established basic principles of democratic governance, the new nation staked its future on the educated wisdom of its citizens, but vested all political power in white land-owning men.

The American Revolution overthrew an obsolete and often brutal form of government based on the dominance of first-born sons that had held sway for at least three millennia. The new United States promised political and economic freedom, though women and non-white men were initially shut out of leadership roles and political power, including the power to choose their leaders. But as habits and traditions of democratic governance developed in the United States, they encountered challenges of rapid social and technological change, and eventually pressure mounted for true political equality, even if that ultimately meant amending the United States Constitution.

Shortly after the Constitution was ratified in 1787, several generations of strong, wise, and courageous women began building a crusade for equal rights. In 1792 in England, Mary Wollstonecraft, wife of the British philosopher William Godwin and mother of Frankensteinauthor Mary Shelley, wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which called for gender equality in political governance. Her book was a clarion call, not only for woman suffrage, but as a preamble to the modern feminist movement in general.

By the middle of the nineteenth century in the US, the movement for women’s rights overlapped with the movement for the abolition of slavery. Abolitionist crusaders like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, for example, also supported woman suffrage. The first large-scale convention calling for equal rights for women was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. That event was organized by two women who also called for the abolition of slavery: Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose husband Henry Stanton was an abolitionist lecturer.

Mrs. Stanton authored a substantial essay entitled “The Declaration of Sentiments,” which expanded on the Declaration of Independence by adding the word “woman” or “women” throughout. This pivotal document called for social and legal changes to elevate women’s place in society and listed 18 grievances, from the inability to control their wages and property to the difficulty of gaining custody in divorce to the lack of voting rights. That same year, Mrs. Stanton circulated petitions throughout New York to urge the New York Congress to pass the Married Women’s Property Act. She eventually became recognized as a prominent author, lecturer, and philosopher of the woman suffrage movement, and she helped to guide the movement well into the twentieth century.

Susan B. Anthony, born in 1829, was fourteen years younger than Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Her father was a Quaker, a farmer, and later a cotton mill owner and manager, and a friend of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Her mother served in the Massachusetts state government. From an early age, Susan B. Anthony was inspired by the Quaker belief that everyone was equal under God. In 1848, her mother and sister attended the Seneca Falls convention for women’s rights, but Susan herself did not.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Susan B. Anthony in 1851, and the two quickly began collaborating on speeches, articles, and books. Their intellectual and organizational partnership dominated the woman’s movement for over half a century. When Stanton was unable to travel due to the demands of raising her seven children, she would author speeches for Anthony to deliver.

In 1862, Stanton became involved in Civil War efforts and joined with Anthony to advocate for the thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery. After the Civil War, Stanton became one of the best-known women’s rights activists in the country. Her speeches addressed issues of child rearing, divorce law, property rights, temperance, abolition, and presidential campaigns.

In 1868, Anthony and Stanton co-founded the American Equal Rights Association and co-edited the Association’s newspaper, The Revolution. When Congress passed the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the US Constitution, which gave voting rights to African American men, they opposed the legislation because it did not include the right to vote for women. Their belief led them to split from other suffragists and create yet another organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1872, Anthony was actually arrested and fined $100 for voting, which brought national attention to the suffrage movement. In 1876, she led a protest at the American Revolution Centennial celebration.

By the 1880s, Stanton was 65 years old and focused more on writing than on traveling and lecturing. She co-authored three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage from 1881 to 1885. In the 1890s, she published the Woman’s Bible, in which she voiced her belief in a secular state and urged women to recognize how religious orthodoxy and masculine theology blocked their chances to achieve self-governance. She also wrote an autobiography, Eighty Years and More, about the events and work of her life.

In 1888, thanks to the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, the two largest suffrage associations were merged into one, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and led that organization until 1900. She traveled the nation giving speeches, gathering thousands of signatures on petitions, and lobbying Congress every year.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902. Susan B. Anthony died in 1906.

Carrie Lane was born on January 9, 1859, in Ripon, Wisconsin, the second of three children. When she was seven, her family relocated to Iowa, where she later became the only woman in her graduating class at Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). She advanced from teacher to superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa. In 1885, she married newspaper editor Leo Chapman, who died a year later of typhoid fever. In 1890, she married engineer George Catt.

Mrs. Catt became involved with the suffrage movement in the late 1880s, joining the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, though her interest dated back to her teen years when she realized her mother lacked the same voting rights her father enjoyed. She also became involved with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and was soon tapped to give speeches nationwide to help organize local suffrage chapters. In 1900, she was elected NAWSA president, filling the seat vacated by the aging Susan B. Anthony.

Recognizing the international dimensions of the suffrage issue in 1902, Catt founded the International Woman Suffrage Alliance to spread democracy around the globe. In 1904, she retired briefly to care for her dying husband, who passed away a year later. That loss, combined with those of her brother, mother, and Susan B. Anthony, left her emotionally drained. To heal, she spent several years traveling abroad and serving as president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. She also helped found the Woman’s Peace Party in 1915.

Due to lingering racism, not everyone was able to participate in the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Although the organization did not exclude African American women from membership at the national level, some state and local organizations chose to exclude them. Conventions held in southern cities like Atlanta and New Orleans were segregated. NAWSA also required black women to march separately during its 1913 parade in Washington, DC. Even within this socially progressive movement, racism persisted.

Mrs. Catt resumed the NAWSA presidency from 1915 to 1920. During that period, she devised the “Winning Plan,” which carefully coordinated state suffrage campaigns with the drive for a constitutional amendment—the plan which helped ensure final victory. She led the movement to create the League of Women Voters in 1920 during the annual NAWSA convention, which was held just six months before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. In 1923, she published a history of the suffrage movement, Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement. She also gave her attention to other issues such as child labor and world peace. After the horrors of World War I, she organized the Committee on the Cause and Cure of War in 1925. Concerned about Hitler’s growing power, she worked on behalf of German Jewish refugees and was awarded the American Hebrew Medal in 1933. Mrs. Catt served as the League of Women Voters’ honorary president until her death in 1947.

Multimedia Anthem

This week a friend I have not seen in 48 years sent me a video clip of an artist creating a visual to go with the Star-Spangled Banner being sung just before a basketball game. The clip was shown on virtual channel kshb-tv. I don’t know who was playing in that game or where it took place, but the clip is pretty astounding. The first time I watched it, I could not figure out what the artist was painting, but at the very end it all came clear. You can check it out below.


Pink and Pinker

Two of my favorite authors since 2010 are Dan Pink and Steven Pinker. Pinker, of course, is the author of The  Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker got that title from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, and we appropriated the phrase for this website.

Pink and Pinker are kindred spirits. Before I retired, I used to show the You Tube clip below in my introductory course in Leadership Studies at Ripon College. It provides a good hint at Pink’s approach to human motivation, it covers some very useful information, and it’s a hoot to watch.


Happy Anniversary, Camp Manito-wish YMCA

From its earliest days in the 1990s, our nonprofit sponsor, the Wisconsin Leadership Institute (WLI), has enjoyed a supportive and productive relationship with Camp Manito-wish YMCA of Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. Manito-wish is a YMCA camp, founded in 1919, featuring a substantial emphasis on collaborative leadership behaviors. In 2008, when the WLI published its curriculum for schools and youth groups (Leading Together: Foundations of Collaborative Leadership), Manito-wish people contributed to the research, the writing, and the testing of all the exercises and games. The team was led by Laurie Frank, a Manito-wish mainstay and lead author of the curriculum.

The curriculum itself featured a reference to the “Seven Qualities of a Manito-wish Collaborative Leader:”

  • Builds a shared vision with those they lead.
  • Builds models: tries it . . . changes it . . . tries it again.
  • Shares a common space with others.
  • Lets others amplify their abilities.
  • Remembers that followership and leadership go hand-in-hand.
  • Doesn’t collaborate to turn out the lights.
  • Celebrates successful collaborations.

We will have more to say about all seven of these qualities, but let this post speak out for quality number seven: “celebrates successful collaborations.” The twenty-plus-year collaboration between the WLI and Manito-wish calls for substantial celebration, but an even more substantial occasion for boisterous cheering is the 100th anniversary of Manito-wish itself in 2018. So here are three cheers from the WLI and Our Better Angels:

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! for Camp Manito-wish YMCA and all the good work that all its good people have done for 100 years. Please check out their website.

Pep Rally for the Parade of Generations

Our nonprofit sponsor, the Wisconsin Leadership Institute, is getting involved in a project to support youth leadership development through sports-related activities and metaphors. The central aims of this new project will be to leverage the tension between competition and collaboration in sports; and to support the educational and developmental lessons of winning without arrogance, losing without shame, and working together for the sake of the team, the organization, and the community. In this light, we could consider Our Better Angels to be something like a pep rally for the never-ending parade of future generations as they compete, collaborate, win, lose, and help each other help each other. We’ll keep you posted as our new project emerges.

The Storm Before the Calm

Shortly after the New Year showed up, Nick Kristof wrote in the the New York Times that, contrary to widespread belief, “2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.”

Kristof’s point echoes the gist of Steven Pinker’s monumental study, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker and Kristof both point out that we have come to doubt the goodness of human nature and to fear the worst among us thanks to the incessant reporting of violent, destructive, murderous, and just downright nasty behavior in most of our mass media news coverage.

When I was teaching leadership studies at Ripon College, I made a habit of asking students in my intro course how many had ever witnessed a murder. Over 33 years of teaching that course twice a year, only one person out of some 3,000 ever raised a hand. Then I would ask how many had seen at least 50 murders on TV, and every hand in every course in every semester went up.

Our brains are wired to pay close attention to danger, and the people who program our mass media, produce our crime shows, and report our news realize that violence sells – and so does sex. But the reality described by Kristof and Pinker, based on huge piles of verifiable evidence, is that human behavior has become much less violent millennium by millennium, century by century, generation by generation. Even in the twentieth century, in which millions died by violence in worldwide wars, the percentage of people touched by violence compared to the total population of the planet was way down.

This is part of what Kristof reported on January 6, 2018: “A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell. . . . We journalists focus on bad news — we cover planes that crash, not those that take off — but the backdrop of global progress may be the most important development in our lifetime.”

So please don’t despair about the trajectory or the fate of the human community. Hitch your wagon to the better angels of the human spirit and think long term. We are actually living through a nasty storm before the next calm, and we should all pitch in to bring it about. You can read all of Kristof’s column here.

Hooray for Irma and Harvey

On December 29, 2017, the New York Times reported that the 2017 story that garnered the most likes, shares, and comments was not about all the awful, creepy, nasty, really bad stuff that happened over the previous year. It was a story about Harvey and Irma Schluter, a wonderful, civilized, quiet couple who celebrated their seventy-fifth anniversary in Spokane, Washington.

Irma and Harvey are terrific representatives and models for Our Better Angels. At OBA we believe that most people, most of the time, under favorable conditions, are reasonably intelligent, cooperative, and willing to work for people and causes they care about. Psychologists have demonstrated this beyond doubt over the last 75 years, but some folks who hope to manipulate and exploit others through fear, anger, ignorance, or greed make a habit of undermining faith in the human spirit.

Irma is 93 and Harvey is 104, so nobody can dismiss them as naïve idealists. In the Times article, Irma is quoted as saying, “If you can help someone, then help them.” At OBA, we try to help people help people.

Here’s to Irma and Harvey and all the Better Angels of the human spirit for 2018. You can read the rest of their story here.