Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.

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Unusually strong words at the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s convention today.

In a speech to the delegates, Carrie Chapman Catt, president of N.A.W.S.A. from 1900 to 1904, declared that women demanded the vote nationwide without delay, and added that “if the Constitution stands in our way, let’s tear it up and make a new one!”

Irritation with President Wilson for neglecting to even mention woman suffrage in his message to Congress day before yesterday has increased. Today he failed to meet with convention representatives Ruth Hanna McCormick and Madeleine McDowell Breckinridge, supposedly due to “illness.” As Connecticut suffragist Katharine Houghton Hepburn noted, if he “had been brought up by an enfranchised mother, he would know more of the needs of Democracy.” Hepburn later vigorously attacked the still-widespread practice of trafficking women for prostitution:

Here in Washington at this very moment, girls are being bought and sold. The President knows it. The District Commissioners know it. The police know it. It is only the secret caucus of the House of Representatives which has prevented the Kenyon “Red Light” Bill from becoming law. I hope that the convention will adopt a resolution which will result in bringing this bill upon the floor of the House, having it debated, and passed. It will in great measure prevent the traffic in vice which is being carried on openly and with official sanction in the National Capital.

Hepburn’s resolution was immediately passed.

Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt

Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, N.A.W.S.A. president since 1904, was re-elected, with Jane Addams as First Vice President, an office she has held since 1911. They have a tough job ahead of them, but have now succeeded in revising the group’s constitution to help fund their more expansive – and expensive – efforts. After lengthy and vigorous discussions, the delegates mandated that each year all affiliated chapters must now send N.A.W.S.A.’s national headquarters the equivalent of 5% of their annual expenditures, and that representation in the national organization will be proportional to the amount of money each chapter contributes to the national office, and not to the number of members it has.

Tensions between the “militants” and the more conservative members of the nation’s largest suffrage organization are clearly growing. As one example of this conflict, Alva Belmont tried to introduce a resolution today to move the national headquarters from New York City to Washington, D.C., where “militant” Alice Paul’s N.A.W.S.A. Congressional Committee as well as her Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage are concentrating solely on getting a Constitutional amendment enfranchising women passed by Congress. The “militants” also favor the use of more aggressive tactics to accomplish this goal. But Belmont’s attempt to move N.A.W.S.A. to D.C. failed, as most of the officers and delegates still appear to favor putting the primary focus on a more conservative “State-by-State” approach and using traditional methods of lobbying.

The growing split in N.A.W.S.A. could either hinder the cause through infighting, or reinvigorate it if the “militants” leave N.A.W.S.A. and go their own way, so the next year is shaping up as critical one for the “Votes for Women” movement.

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David Dismore

David became a lifelong admirer of the suffragists after briefly encountering them in a high school textbook in the early 1960s. Though missing out on that first part of the struggle for equality, he became active in "second wave" feminism through LA NOW in 1974 and has been a full-time feminist, TV news archivist, and women's history researcher at the Feminist Majority Foundation since its creation.