Some people become activists. Carrie Chapman Catt was born one.
According to Iowa Public Television's website, when Carrie was 6 years old, she slapped a boy in the face for teasing a classmate who lost her skirt. By 13, she wanted to know why her father could vote but her mother couldn't. And after graduating high school in only three years, her father told her that women shouldn't go to college and she went anyway.
Born Carrie Clinton Lane in 1859 in Ripon, Wis., she moved to Charles City, Iowa, when she was 7 years old. The young Carrie preferred reading to the training to become a good wife that was the usual upbringing of girls at the time.
She taught for a year after high school to save money and then went to Iowa Agricultural College — now Iowa State — where she really began to make her mark, according to the Catt Center on campus. Carrie eventually became instrumental in the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote.
Carrie's career at Iowa State seemed tailor-made to push boundaries. She started by being the first woman to give a speech in front of the debate club, and followed that up in the 1870s by organizing military drills for the female students decades before women would be allowed to serve in the armed forces, according to IPTV.
The women's unit was nicknamed Company "G," for "girls." That unit would continue until World War I.
Carrie's career after Iowa Agricultural College comprised of a long list of roles that were reserved for men at the time. She first read law at a law firm then became the principal of Mason City High School before becoming superintendent of all Mason City schools. She did all of this by the time she was 24 years old, according to IPTV's website.
In 1885, Carrie married Leo Chapman. Leo was a newspaper editor and publisher, and his new wife became the co-editor, with both of their names appearing on the masthead.
Leo died of typhoid fever in 1886 while the couple was living in San Francisco. Now Carrie Chapman, she remained in San Francisco for a short time as a freelance reporter before moving back to Iowa in 1887.
It was at this point that Carrie became involved with the suffrage movement. She married George Catt, a successful engineer, in 1890, and his wealth enabled Carrie to spend time campaigning for the rights of women.
During this time, she became one of the "nieces," or students, of legendary women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony. When Anthony retired as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Carrie was her hand-picked successor. According to IPTV, she was elected to the position twice, once in 1900 and again in 1915.
During her time with the association, Carrie gained support for women's suffrage by backing U.S. efforts in World War I, which helped gain the support of President Woodrow Wilson. She herself worked tirelessly, personally organizing events and giving hundreds of speeches. During 1911 and 1912, she toured the world for the cause, going to Sweden, Egypt, India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Norway, Ceylon and South Africa, where she met with Ghandi, according to the Catt Center's website.
Carrie, however, could still be a product of the prejudices of her time. According to biographer Jacqueline Van Voris, author of "Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life," Carrie appealed to South Dakota audiences by claiming it unjust that the "murderous Sioux" could vote while women could not. In 1894, she advocated the removal of immigrant votes in favor of women, saying they should "cut off the vote of the slums and give it to women." Her statement that "white supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women's suffrage" caused the renaming of Old Botany on Iowa State's campus to Catt Hall in 1995 to become the subject of rebuke by the NAACP.
The question of whether Carrie truly had such views or was simply appealing for support remains unresolved, and she never addressed the issue. She later was involved in anti-war activities as well as the formation of the Protest Committee of Non-Jewish Women Against the Persecution of Jews in Germany during World War II. Her efforts eventually made her the first woman to receive the American Hebrew medal, according to IPTV's website.
In February of 1920, Carrie founded the League of Women Voters to prepare and educate women for their new rights, when the 19th Amendment was ratified in August, according to the Catt Center's website. It had been a 42-year struggle since the amendment was originally drafted by Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Carrie returned to Iowa in 1921 to become the first woman to deliver a speech at commencement at Iowa State, according to the Catt Center.
Carrie retired from the National American Woman Suffrage Association after the passage of the 19th Amendment but remained active in women's rights causes both domestically and internationally for most of the rest of her life. She organized her last women's rights event, the Women's Centennial Conference, in 1940 in New York. Carrie died in New Rochelle, N.Y., in 1947, leaving behind a legacy of women's rights advocacy.