by Sheila Swearingen
Most League members know Carrie Chapman Catt as the founder of the League of Women Voters but may not know her history of working tirelessly for women’s suffrage before 1920.
In the fall of 1898, Carrie Chapman Catt of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), came to Oklahoma Territory. Her mission was to guide efforts to get suffrage through the 1899 session of the Oklahoma legislature.
Oklahoma suffragists had worked hard to get a bill through the Oklahoma legislature in 1890 and 1897 sessions, but the bills had failed both times
On January 16, 1899, Councilor James P. Gandy of Woods County, introduced Council Bill 32, “An Act Defining the Rights of Women.”
On January 24, the House and Council Elections Committees met together to hear Carrie Chapman Catt speak on equal suffrage. The Oklahoma State Capital newpaper wrote that Chapman Catt held the attention of a packed hearing room audience for two hours. “The Lady makes a favorable impression by the candor and fairness of her remarks…”, said the paper, and predicted passage.
Despite winning approval in the House, the bill ran into procedural roadblocks in the Council. The vote was delayed, which gave time for anti-suffragists time to work against the bill. The legislature received numerous telegrams from anti-suffragists around the country, warning that legislators must “Protect sweet womanly dignity from the debasing influence of politics.”
Although suffragists tried repeatedly to get a vote on the bill, it was never voted on by the 1899 Council. It would take almost another 20 years for women to get the vote in Oklahoma.
To read the rest of Oklahoma suffrage history, download How Women Got the Vote in Oklahoma from the Norman League website.
*Note: The Oklahoma Territorial Legislature was bicameral, with a House of Representatives and a Council.