American Portraits

Carrie Chapman Catt: The Woman of the Hour and Purpose

In this lesson, students will learn how Carrie Chapman Catt worked with purpose to advocate for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for women. They will use this example to be purposeful in their own lives.

Founding Principles

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Civil Discourse

Reasoned and respectful sharing of ideas between individuals is the primary way people influence change in society/government, and is essential to maintain self-government.

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Consent of the Governed

The government's power is only justified when its power comes from the will or approval of the people.

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

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Freedom of Speech

The freedom to express one's opinions without interference from the the government is critical to the maintenance of liberty within a free society.

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Majority Rule / Minority Rights

Laws may be made with the consent of the majority but only to the point where they do not infringe on the inalienable rights of the minority.

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Representative / Republican Government

Form of government in which the people are sovereign (the ultimate source of power) and authorize representatives to make and carry out laws.


Catt was an educated woman with a strong will and fighting spirit. She grew up in Charles City, Iowa, and graduated from Iowa State College in 1880, the only woman in her class. She became a teacher, then principal, then superintendent for Mason City schools. After a year of marriage, she was left a widow, and decided to devote her time and energy to a public cause. She joined the Iowa Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1886 and quickly rose through the ranks to leadership positions….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can your purposeful leadership help overcome people’s tendency to be distracted by their differences rather than focusing on common goals?

Virtue Defined

Purpose is my answer to the question “why do I exist?” It is the reason for which I exist; it is my goal, that thing to which my actions are directed. It is our answer to the question “what are you for?”

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn how Carrie Chapman Catt worked with purpose to advocate for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for women. They will use this example to be purposeful in their own lives.


  • Students will analyze Carrie Chapman Catt’s purposeful behavior in leading the effort for women’s suffrage.
  • Students will evaluate the value in acting with purpose.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of purpose to their own lives.


“[T]he time is past when we should say: ‘Men and women of America, look upon that wonderful idea up there: see, one day it will come down.’ Instead, the time has come to shout aloud in every city, village, and hamlet, and in tones so clear and jubilant that they will reverberate from every mountain peak and echo from shore to shore: ‘The Woman’s Hour has struck.’”

The women listening that day drew strength and inspiration from their speaker, Carrie Chapman Catt. They had assembled at the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) meeting in Atlantic City. They were prepared for action. For 68 years, American women had been fighting for the right to vote. There had been minor successes and major setbacks. It was 1916, and only a few far western states, such as Wyoming and Utah, had granted women the right to vote. Most women in the rest of the nation could be jailed if they even tried to vote.

Over the years, the disjointed work of suffragist organizations had generated few productive results. Some leaders believed in attacking the issue first at the state level. Others thought the only solution was an amendment to the U.S. Constitution and focused their energies on petitioning Congress. A few wanted to follow the example of English suffragists and took a militant approach. For example, the National Woman’s Party orchestrated sit-ins and hunger strikes. Some of the more reserved suffragists spread word of their cause through organized afternoon teas and small parades.

The movement that began with the first women’s rights convention in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, seemed to be failing by the early 1900s. Carrie Chapman Catt was determined to save it.


  • Jubilant
  • Reverberate
  • Disjointed
  • Suffragist
  • Seneca Falls Convention
  • Widow
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Tenure
  • International Woman Suffrage Alliance
  • Winning Plan
  • Initiative
  • President Woodrow Wilson
  • Lobbied
  • Antisuffragists
  • Quorum
  • Referendum
  • League of Women Voters
  • Enfranchised

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was Catt’s purpose in developing the Winning Plan?
  • What adverse events did Catt encounter and how did she respond to adversity at several different points in her life?
  • Carrie Chapman Catt had many different identities in her life. What identities or roles do you have? Which is most significant to you? Why? Which is most significant to others? Why?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • “Carrie Chapman Catt.” Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association 1848–1921. 19 Oct. 1998. The Library of Congress.
  • Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home. Nineteenth Amendment Society.
  • Catt, Carrie Chapman. “The Crisis.” Speech presented at the National American Women’s Suffrage Association convention, Atlantic City, N.J., Sep. 1916.
  • Catt, Carrie Chapman. “Papers of Carrie Chapman Catt.” Washington: Library of Congress, 1975.
  • Fowler, Robert Booth. Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986.
  • Keyssar, Alexander. The Right to Vote. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
  • “People: Carrie Chapman Catt 1859–1947.” The American Experience: Woodrow Wilson.
  • Van Voris, Jacqueline. Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1987.
  • Carrie Chapman Catt.

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