I am responding to the column you published from the League of Women Voters on Feb. 19 entitled, “For the love of democracy.” Sadly, this column contains several factual errors that undermine its argument.
First, the author misrepresents the nature of the schism in the suffrage movement in the 1870s by implying that abolitionists and suffrage pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony opposed the 15th Amendment, which enfranchised African American men. In truth, they opposed it because they wanted the 15th Amendment to enfranchise both African American men and all women, African American and white alike. Stanton and Anthony denounced the amendment because it omitted women, not because it included African American men. Frederick Douglass, for his part, was willing to sacrifice women’s, including African American women’s, voting rights for political expediency.
Second, Sojourner Truth did not “separate” herself from Stanton and Anthony but actually denounced the 15th Amendment for its failure to include women.
Third, the author states that Carrie Chapman Catt, suffrage leader and founder of the League of Women Voters, “pointed out that white supremacy would be restored” by the 19th Amendment. The Catt Center has not found any speech or writing by Catt that uses this phrase. The comment that comes closest to this is Catt’s statement that “white supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened by woman suffrage,” which appears in a book chapter entitled, “Objections to the Federal Amendment” (1917). Similarly, Catt’s essay includes no phrase echoing the sentiment that “white women were under Black men at the moment, and the right to vote would make them equals.” Rather, Catt refutes the white supremacy argument, and others. She concludes by calling them arguments “ridiculous” and advocating for universal suffrage.
Fourth, the author uses the term “suffragettes” to refer to women’s voting rights advocates. The moniker “suffragette” was a derogatory term in the United States. The proper term in the US is “suffragist.”
The point of the editorial is sound: that Americans should be vigilant against any efforts to undermine voting rights. I’m grateful for this opportunity to correct the record.
Karen M. Kedrowski,
Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics
Iowa State University