Notable Women of ISU: Carrie Chapman Catt

This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring notable women of ISU. To kick off this series, I am beginning with an obvious choice – Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt is known for her work in the women’s suffrage movement and is so notable that a campus building was named after her (Catt Hall). [It’s worth noting that in 1998 there was a controversy about the naming of the building, known as the September 29th Movement (collection RS 22/3/3), and a review committee was formed in response (RS 22/1/8).]

Without further adieu, here is the lady of the hour.

Carrie Chapman Catt's graduation photo, 1880.

Carrie Chapman Catt’s graduation photo, 1880. University Photographs, RS 21/7/A.

Carrie Chapman Catt was born January 9, 1859, to Maria Clinton and Lucius Lane in Ripon, Wisconsin. Around 1865, the family moved to Charles City, Iowa. Catt then attended Iowa State College and graduated in 1880 at the top of her class.

During her time in Ames, she established military drills for women, became the first woman student to give an oration before a debating society, earned extra money as assistant to the librarian, and was a member of Pi Beta Phi.

Post-graduation, she became the high school principal in Mason City and then in 1883 the superintendent of Mason City Schools. While there, she met her first husband, Leo Chapman, editor of the Mason City Republican. They married in February 1885. After his death in 1886, she went to California and worked as a newspaper reporter before returning to Iowa to take on women’s suffrage.

Early on in her suffrage work, she ran into a classmate from Ames, George W. Catt. They were married in 1890. He supported his wife’s work both financially and personally until his death in October 1905.

Carrie Chapman Catt served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900-1904 and from 1915 until women’s right to vote was attained (1920). In addition, she formed the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and served as president of that organization for many years. When women won the right to vote, Catt encouraged the formation of the League of Women Voters.

Throughout her life, Catt received a great deal of recognition for her work, including many awards such as the Chi Omega (1941), the Pictorial Review Award (1931), and induction into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. She died at her home in New Rochelle, New York in 1947.

Brochure from a celebration of Catt and the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, 1995. RS 21/7/3, Box 3, Folder 8

Brochure from a celebration of Catt and the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, 1995. RS 21/7/3, Box 3, Folder 8

More information and materials related to Carrie Chapman Catt can be found here in Special Collections and University Archives in the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers. We also have other women’s collections, including the Woman Suffrage Collection. In addition, see this webpage for resources available online. Have a look, and stop by sometime!

CyPix: Election Edition

Portrait of Mary Newbury Adams

Portrait of Mary Newbury Adams, MS 10.

Since today is Election Day around the nation, let’s talk about our women’s suffrage collections. We have several, which we’ve talked about on the blog a few times: see related posts here. Read up on Mary Newbury Adams, a founding member of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Association (pictured above), or Carrie Chapman Catt, a president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. A full range of Iowa State’s women’s collections can be seen here.

Another way to celebrate Election Day is by making one of Carrie Chapman Catt’s favorite desserts – try a cranberry souffle, strawberry shortcake-biscuit style, or something else from the Suffrage Cookbook available online through our digital collections.

Women’s History Month: New Addition to the Woman Suffrage Collection!

The department recently received a letter, pictured below, that has now been placed in the Woman Suffrage Collection, MS 471.


Letter from Mary Safford to Mrs. E. N. Mann, 1912; MS 471, box 1, folder 6

Letter from Mary Safford to Mrs. E. N. Mann, 1912; MS 471, box 1, folder 6

Letter from Mary Safford to Mrs. E. N. Mann, 1912; MS 471, box 1, folder 6

This letter, written on October 14, 1912, was addressed to Mrs. E. N. Mann of Boone, from Mary Safford, President of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association. Rev. Safford wrote urging Mrs. Mann to accept a position on the Board of Directors of which she was elected after having left an unnamed convention. Rev. Safford wrote:

In any event, I wish to congratulate you on the honor conferred, tho [sic] you may think yourself more in need of sympathy. That is understood, at all times, on my part.

In her effort to persuade Mrs. Mann to take the position, Rev. Safford added the following:

I urge all this for the sake of our common cause, and wish to add my personal urgent request that you do not permit anything to cause you to refuse to serve.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know how this turned out, and what convention this was. The following remark makes me even more curious (the words in brackets are educated guesses – the letter is a bit worm-eaten):

I greatly admired your [action] in [the] Convention and wish to express my personal appreciation of your womanhood as manifest by your frank statement.

What was this “frank statement?” What exactly went on at this convention? Perhaps someday we’ll know more about all of this, but in the meantime we have many other women’s rights-related collections that are worth viewing. These include Iowa State University. University Committee on Women Records,  the Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, and the collections within the Archives of Women in Science and Engineering. Also see the Women’s Collections subject guide. If you’re at all curious about the history of women’s rights in Iowa, come in and read the rest of the letter and have a look at any of these great collections!

Women’s History Month: Mary Newbury Adams letters

In celebration of Women’s History Month, today we’re highlighting a newly digitized collection of correspondence: a selection of Mary Newbury Adams letters from the Adams Family Papers found on our Digital Collections website.

Portrait of Mary Newbury Adams

Mary Newbury Adams.

Mary Newbury Adams was born in Peru, Indiana, in 1837 to Samuel and Mary Ann (Sergeant) Newbury. Her father strongly believed that both men and women should be educated, and so she attended Mrs. Willard’s Female Seminary in Troy, New York, where she graduated in 1857. A few months later, she married Austin Adams, a young lawyer who had graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard. They moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where he eventually became a judge and was later elected to the Iowa Supreme Court and became chief justice there. The Adams had four children, Annabel (b. 1858), Eugene (b. 1861), Herbert (b. 1863), and Cecilia (b. 1865).

In an early letter, dated February 21, 1857, Mary writes from school to her fiancé Austin (“My dear one”). She suggests that his cousin might come to call on her while she is spending a Sunday with her aunt in Lansingburgh, New York, the following month. “I should be happy to see him,” she writes, adding with maidenly modesty that disappears in later letters, “although I should feel rather embarrassed I fear.”

Mary Newbury Adams was an avid student of science, history, philosophy, and poetry. In a letter to her sister Frances, she explains that she has been studying earlier that day about the formation of minerals. “I have little time to go to the library now,” she writes, “but I manage to keep one or two subjects on hand to think about – just to hang my thoughts on.” She adds, “I never was so driven in household matters” (November 9, 1869).

She established the Conversational Club of Dubuque in 1868 to promote access to education and ideas among women. Club meetings were held in the homes of members, and the topics discussed included education, local progress, political science and economy, mental and moral philosophy, the fine arts, political revolutions, belles lettres, ecclesiastical history, natural philosophy, and physical sciences.

Reflecting on the importance of the clubs to women’s lives, she writes to her sister, “Our literary clubs are getting along finely and their beneficial effects are already evident in society. When women have clubs for study then they will not be driven for amusement to make society a business. Any amusement made an occupation becomes dissipation. All dissipation ends in disease. No wonder our American women are so weak” (Letter to Frances Newbury Bagley, March 18, 1869).

In another letter, however, she attributes women’s weakness to a very different cause: the stress that comes from a very active life. Many women today can relate to Mary’s frustrations!

“I am not very well and then am driven by outside work – our literary club’s preparation for the opening of the Institute of Sciences and Arts. One doesn’t want to go and examine minerals when they know nothing of them[,] nor rocks when one can’t tell the difference between stratified and igneous rocks. Then the papers pile in and one keeps reading and taking notes & making scrapbooks so not to lose it before it is gone[.] Then the sewing, calls, church and one’s own body to care for. It’s no wonder American women are weak. They try to live ten lives in one and vote besides.” (Letter to Frances Newbury Bagley, April 26, 1868)

In 1866, Mrs. Adams became interested in women’s suffrage and did much to promote it through writing and speaking. She was a member of the Association for Advancement of Women, the American Historical Association, vice chairperson of Women’s Branch of the World’s Congress Auxiliary of the Colombian Exposition, and numerous literary societies. She was a founding member of the Northern Iowa Woman Suffrage Association.

Mary Newbury Adams, surrounded by seven grandchildren.

Mary Newbury Adams with grandchildren, circa 1898. Caption reads: [top row] Emily Goan, Adelaide Goan, Olive Adams, [bottom row] Percival Goan, Adele Adams (on lap), Harlow Adams.

She wrote a letter home to her children on October 27, 1898, from the National Council of Women meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, describing her busy schedule, meeting with many people, old friends and new. She writes of her “level headed practical friend by my side Maria P. Peck.” Peck was another prominent Iowa woman from Davenport and founder of the Davenport Women’s Club (see entry: “PECK, Maria Purdy,” Woman’s Who’s Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915. ed. by John William Leonard. New York, NY: American Commonwealth Company, 1914. pp. 633).

The Mary Adams letters give a peek into the day-to-day concerns of a prominent Iowa suffragist and intellectual during her most active period. Be sure to take a look at the letters in Digital Collections. You can also come in to Special Collections and take a look at the entire Adams Family Papers, MS-10. To see what is included in this collection, take a look at the finding aid.

And to find other important women you can research in Special Collections, check out our Women’s Collections subject guide.

We always look forward to seeing you in Special Collections–online or in person!

Women’s History Month: Online Collections

March is Women’s History Month, and today (March 8th) marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (1911-2011).  As the International Women’s Day press release states, “International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future.”

The Special Collections Department here at Iowa State University holds numerous collections documenting the history of women here at Iowa State, throughout Iowa, the United States and sometimes even the world.  A listing of selected collections related to women can be found in our subject guide found online.

Ada Hayden taking a photograph.

In the last few years, we have put a number of items related to women’s history from our collections online.  One of these is a scrapbook from the Ada Hayden Papers which contains beautiful black and white photographs, including brief captions, of prairie scenes and flora in Iowa.  In addition to being an Iowa State graduate, Ada Hayden was also an Instructor and Assistant Professor (1910-1950) of botany for many years here at Iowa State, and later Curator of the Herbarium (1947-1950).  In addition to studying Iowa’s prairies and flora, she devoted herself to prairie preservation.  Iowa State’s Herbarium was named after Ada Hayden, and contains many specimens collected by her.  For more on the Ada Hayden Herbarium, please visit the herbarium’s website.  You may also recognize her name from Ada Hayden Heritage Park on the north side of Ames.  The finding aid for Hayden’s papers can be found here.

The collection of quilt historian and Ames alumna Mary Barton is also available online through Digital Collections.  The Fashion Plates Collection (1776-2003) contains plates of general fashion dating back to the 18th century and continuing through the 20th century.

Mary Welch’s cookbook and several suffrage cookbooks can be found through the Cookbooks link on the Digital Collection’s homepage.  Mary Welch was the wife of Iowa State’s first president, Adonijah Welch and was the organizer and head of the Department of Domestic Economy at Iowa State from 1875 to 1883.  In addition to this cookbook, the Special Collections Department also holds Mary Welch’s papers.  The finding aid to her papers can be found online here.  Her collection contains interesting writings and lectures from an influential Iowa State woman from the early part of Iowa State’s history.

The online suffrage cookbooks (the originals are housed here in the Special Collections Department) in the library’s Digital Collections are also are also fun to look through.  The “Woman Suffrage Cook Book, containing thoroughly tested and reliable recipes for cooking, directions for the care of the sick, and practical suggestions, contributed especially for this work”  was edited and published by Mrs. Hattie A. Burr in 1886.  In addition to the normal sections of a title page still present today, I was surprised to find on the title page Hattie’s street address in Boston (or at least that is what I am assuming the address refers to)!

Catt’s graduation image

The final online suffrage cookbook in our Digital Collections, “The Suffrage Cookbook, ” was compiled by Mrs. L.O. Kleber and published in 1915.  In addition to the information and recipes this particular book contains, it also has additional value (sometimes referred to as “intrinsic value“) in that it was owned by our own suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt (Iowa State graduate and president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association).  The book was once owned by Carrie Chapman Catt, and according to the note at the front of the book by her niece to Dr. Hilton [Helen LeBaron Hilton] “Aunt Carrie checked some of the recipes she liked and sometimes wrote figures on the side to show cost.  Her own favorite desserts were cranberry souffle and strawberry shortcake-biscuit style.”  An example of one of these checked recipes (Inexpensive Spice Cake!) can be found on page 124.  Pie for a Suffragist’s Doubting Husband (page 147) is also an interesting read.

Last year we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote and for which Carrie Chapman Catt had worked towards for many years.  Ninety years ago this year, the 1921 Bomb (Iowa State’s yearbook) was dedicated to Carrie Chapman Catt:

Did ISU have anything to do with the 19th Amendment? Why yes it did!

Today, August 26th, marks the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment becoming law, giving women in the United States the right to vote.  What might Iowa State have had to do with women gaining the right to vote back in 1920?  Carrie Chapman Catt graduated from Iowa State in 1880 at the top of her class.  Catt worked diligently for woman’s suffrage both in the United States and internationally, and was the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) when the 19th amendment was passed.  In fact, she was president of NAWSA for many years and came back to the presidency in 1915 to reorganize and strengthen the association.  After the 19th amendment became law, she then helped organize the League of Women Voters.

Several archives hold the papers of Carrie Chapman Catt, including ISU and the Library of Congress.  Microfilmed versions of some of these collections are held in the library’s Media Center and can be found by searching the library’s catalog.  The Library of Congress also has some of her papers online.  We also have a collection of her papers, and the finding aid for her collection is online.  Below are some of the highlights from her collection here at ISU, which contains some materials from when she was a student here as well as when she was working for woman’s suffrage.

Pictured here are a couple images from Catt’s botany notebook, which contain careful notes and illustrations in her very neat handwriting.

In 1921, Catt became the first woman to deliver a commencement address at Iowa State.  The collection contains a newspaper article announcing Catt’s visit to Iowa State, and also a copy of her address which was published in The Alumnus.  The news clippings also reveal that Catt maintained ties to Iowa State, visiting her alma mater at least once during the fight for suffrage in 1917.

In addition to the materials in Catt’s Papers, we also have a number of artifacts which Catt once owned.  Most of these are suffrage buttons and pins, a few of which are pictured below.

If you would like to learn more about Carrie Chapman Catt, please visit our finding aid and the Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home and Museum website, which also contains links to other collections of Carrie Chapman Catt materials and an interactive time line.  There are quite a number of online resources related to the suffrage movement, including a fun online scrapbook which contains articles, letters and editorials from The New York Times about the women who fought for and against suffrage here in the United States.