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Bridges: Designing, Building, Preserving
Celebrating 125 Years
CARRIE WOULD BE PROUD
9, 2004, marks the 145th anniversary of the birth of Carrie Clinton Lane
Chapman Catt, who graduated from Iowa State College in 1880 as the valedictorian
and the only woman in her class. She became involved in the women’s
suffrage movement in 1887, after the death of her first husband, and devoted
the next 33 years of her life to winning women the right to vote. Her
“Winning Plan” as president of the National American Woman
Suffrage Association led to the ratification of the 19th amendment to
the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote in 1920. She established
the League of Women Voters and worked, until her death in 1947, on such
issues as world peace.
As the woman who helped enfranchise more than one-half of this nation’s
population, Carrie Chapman Catt
certainly stands out among the most accomplished and important alumni
of Iowa State University. So, we were certainly pleased to see her included
in the fall 2003 issue of Visions magazine as one of three alumni to bring
“greetings” to the ISU community on the occasion of the Alumni
Association’s 125th anniversary.
However, after reading the fictional letter and knowing Carrie as we do
from studying her speeches and writings, we do not believe she would be
concerned that women now outnumber men as college graduates or that Iowa
State’s female athletes achieve higher academically than do male
athletes. Rather, Carrie would be proud of these accomplishments by women.
And Carrie certainly would not have characterized women voters as “soccer
moms,” knowing that the women’s vote is rich and varied, embracing
the wealth of experiences that make up women’s lives in our society.
Instead, Carrie would be proud of the number of women who vote today.
Just 44 years after winning the right to vote, women began outnumbering
men at the polls in the 1964 presidential election. Since 1980, the proportion
of female voters has been greater than the proportion of male voters.
And, since 1984, more women than men have registered to vote. The fact
that more women than men vote, and that they often vote differently than
men, has led to the phenomenon known as the “gender gap,”
which has been a factor in every presidential race since 1980 as well
as numerous U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races.
Carrie also would be proud of the slow, but steady, progress of women
elected to public office in this country. Carrie was a personal friend
of U.S. Representative Jeannette Rankin of Wyoming, the first woman elected
to Congress in 1916. Since then, 222 women have served in the U.S. Congress
(including six who have served in both the House and the Senate). In the
past 25 years, women have increased their representation in the U.S. Congress
from 4% to 13.6%, in statewide elective office from 10% to 25.3%, and
in state legislatures from 9% to 22.3%.
Finally, Carrie would be proud of the continued advances of her League
of Women Voters and of the more recent successes of the Carrie Chapman
Catt Center for Women and Politics, both of which are dedicated to educating
voters about the political process.
The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics has worked to interest,
educate, and engage citizens – especially women and young voters
in the political process since it was founded in 1992. Each year, the
Center serves more than 3,000 women and men of all ages through its programs,
events, and activities. More than 50 Iowa State students participate annually
in the Center’s scholarship, mentorship, and leadership development
programs – which include the Legacy of Heroines scholars program;
Advancing Citizenship Together (ACT) freshman learning community; and
the Joni and John Axel Leadership Development Series. The Center brings
outstanding women leaders and role models to campus
each year through the Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics and
supports research through the
Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for Research on Women and Politics.
The success of this Center founded in Carrie’s honor as a living
memorial to her life’s work might be the best birthday present ever.
the Writers | Dianne Bystrom is director
of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. Jane Cox is
an ISU professor of music and has portrayed Catt in a one-woman show.