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Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt (nee Clinton Lane) (1859 - 1947) was an American suffrage activist. She became committed to the cause of women’s suffrage during the late 1880s and also joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and she went on to serve twice as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Catt was also active in the international suffrage movement and in 1902 she helped establish the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

As part of a ‘world suffrage tour’, Catt visited South Africa in 1911 with the Dutch suffragette Aletta Jacobs. It is clear from her letters that Schreiner’s sympathies lay with Jacobs rather than Catt, and she responded angrily to a letter Catt had written to Julia Solly of the Cape Women’s Enfranchisement League, commenting to her friend Mimmie Murray that “the letter she [Mrs Solly] got was the most insolent & conceited I ever saw written by one woman to another. Who is Mrs Catt that she dares to write so to other woman. When she has won the vote for American women I think she can come & dictate to South Africans.” The thing that made Schreiner so angry, apart from the imperialist intervention itself, was that Catt was using her international position to push the WEL into adopting a national policy of promoting women’s suffrage ‘on the same terms as men’, and this in the South African context meant it would have a racial, indeed a racist, basis. Archival evidence shows that Schreiner’s friend Caroline Murray, President of the Cape WEL at that point, similarly found Catt’s dictatorial approach difficult to stomach although she was otherwise a supporter of the policy.

For further information see:
Mineke Bosch, with Annemarie Kloosterman (1990) Politics and Friendship: Letters from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, 1902-1942 Columbus: Ohio State University Press
Jacqueline Van Voris (1987) Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life New York: Feminist Press at City University of New York
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