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Les femmes dans les Amériques : Féminismes, études de genre et identités de genre dans les Amériques, XIXe et XXe siècles – Actes du colloque international des 4, 5 et 6 décembre 2013 à Aix-en-Provence
Claire Delahaye

“The perfect library”
Carrie Chapman Catt and the authoritative historiography

[26/11/2014]

Résumés

L’acte de mémoire a joué un rôle considérable dans la bataille pour l’obtention du droit de vote des femmes aux États-Unis, pendant les année de lutte et après la ratification du Dix-neuvième amendement en 1920. Carrie Chapman Catt, ancien chef de file de l’organisation américaine suffragiste la plus large dans les années 1910, décide dans les années 1930 de constituer sa bibliothèque idéale sur l’histoire du droit de vote des femmes, qu’elle léguera par la suite à la bibliothèque du Congrès à Washington. Cet article analyse la figure d’autorité historique et historiographique que Catt vient incarner à travers son désir de contrôler la mémoire du mouvement. Elle en fait une véritable affaire personnelle, voyant la seule vérité historique dans sa propre vision, son projet et son héritage. Elle se pose alors comme l’unique gardienne du souvenir suffragiste.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 For a thorough discussion of the historiography of the woman’s movement in the 19th and early 20th (...)
  • 2 Pierre Karila-Cohen « L'autorité, objet d'histoire sociale », Le Mouvement Social 3/2008 (n° 224), (...)
  • 3 Gérard Leclerc, Histoire de l'autorité : l'assignation des énoncés culturels et la généalogie de la (...)
  • 4 In a letter to Lucy Anthony, Catt explains that a woman she had never heard of, had sent her two pi (...)

1Historiography has always been a central tenet of the woman suffrage movement, as suffragists wrote their own histories, autobiographies, memoirs, and made historical practice a central issue of their struggle.1 Marginalized from traditional power structures, suffragists used and collected printed material to keep accounts of publications, gathering material for speeches or memorabilia: sorting and categorizing information was linked to the construction of group identity and experiences of these women excluded from power. From the making of suffrage scrapbooks to the publication of suffrage histories, suffragists crafted alternative forms of historical authorities. This paper will focus on the intertwining of political and cultural practices and their relation to historiography, through the very notion of authority embodied by the suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt, as paradoxical at it may seem. Authority is constitutive of power and its legitimacy2, both symbolically and institutionally, but as shown by Gérard Leclerc, authority refers also to discursive authority and the ability possessed by certain individuals to produce discourses considered to be true and influential.3 Carrie Chapman Catt personifies such a figure of authority, who was acutely aware of the power dynamics connected to memory, as a former political leader, historical figure, incarnation of the suffrage movement as a whole, and historian of the movement.4

  • 5 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, June 14, 1937, ibid.
  • 6 Letter from Catt to Miss Glenna S. Tinnan, Executive Secretary, World Center for Women’s Archives, (...)
  • 7 Carrie Chapman Catt to Harriot Stanton Blatch, August 23, 1937, ibid.

2In a letter to Lucy Anthony on June 14, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt, the former president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, explained that she wanted to create a “perfect library” on the woman suffrage movement.5 The notion of perfection is a first hint at the authoritative dimension of her planned collection. Catt wrote about her project in detail and expressed how she was trying to gather as many books and papers as possible, to create a “feminist library”6. As she made clear to Harriot Stanton Blatch, a suffragist and the daughter of pioneering women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she first and foremost contacted the descendants of the main activists: “I am trying to gather in anything that the children or grandchildren of the old pioneers and suffragists have in the way of books, pamphlets or papers for a general collection, to be placed somewhere together with my own, and that of the later years of the National Woman Suffrage Association.”7 This conscious decision to focus on the material kept within the families of activists shows that Catt wanted to give a voice to the very historical figures of the movement, while also creating a sense of lineage, showing how central to her endeavor were the notions of connection and community, to the exclusion of her political enemies. Catt set up a treasure hunt, and contacted friends and acquaintances to collect as many books and papers as she could. This collection of sources, which would be deposited in the library of Congress, would play a major role in the transmission of woman suffrage history.

  • 8 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lewis Jerome Johnson, April 21, 1938, ibid.
  • 9 Catt was very wary of Inez Irwin, who had written a history of the National Woman’s Party, Carrie C (...)

3This paper aims at exploring the way Catt gathered the sources and built up her own perfect library, that she described as “historical and sentimental,” which highlights how biased some of her choices were.8 Catt saw herself as the guardian of woman suffrage memory, and some of the key issues in her activism were reproduced within her process of selection of the sources – such as for example her complex relationship with the militant branch of suffragism,9 or her refusal to acknowledge the role played by African-Americans in the movement. From the persons she chose to contact to the place where she deposited the library, her choices impacted the future historiography of the woman suffrage movement.

  • 10 The Federal Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration shows how preserving memory was s (...)
  • 11 “Honors at Capital Paid Mrs. Stanton”, New York Times, November 13, 1941.
  • 12 Des Jardins, p. 203.

4Catt’s decision to deposit her “perfect library” in the Library of Congress took form in a period during which the preservation of memory was seen as a pressing issue in the United States.10 But it seemed all the more urgent to former suffrage leaders and activists, who felt that women issues were disappearing from public discourse. Thus, Catt was not the only suffrage leader focused on the memory of the movement and on preserving its records. In 1940, the National Woman’s Party (or NWP), representing the militant branch of suffragism, created a committee to convert the Old Carriage House of its Washington headquarters into a library11. The Florence Bayard Hilles Feminist Library opened to the public in 1943 and its location on Capitol Hill shows the effort to place the militant movement at the center of national memory. The question of authority was central to all of the suffragists involved: it was a gender issue as they wanted to give women a voice in history and politics; it was a generational issue as older leaders felt that younger generations ignored their past; it was also a power struggle within the movement over the contents and the meaning of history. In this context, Catt had a key role to play, all the more since “more than any other former suffragist, she had been obsessed with shaping women’s rights history, associating much of it with her own personal legacy.”12

A repository of authoritative history

  • 13 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Marshall W. Cox, June 25, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts (...)
  • 14 Carrie Chapman Catt to the Librarian of the Congressional Library, January 8, 1938, ibid.: “May I h (...)

5In 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt started wondering about a place to keep her books on the woman movement “for the use of future research workers where they will be easily found”13. Catt was acutely aware that access to suffrage material was essential to keeping the memory of the movement alive, and that her choice of the place she would give her books to was crucial. She was as a consequence looking for a repository of authoritative history, and she turned to the Library of Congress.14

  • 15 http://www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/coll/043.html
  • 16 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Marshall W. Cox, June 25, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts (...)
  • 17 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946.
  • 18 John Clement Fitzpatrick to Carrie Chapman Catt, January 18, year probably 1938, ibid..
  • 19 Carrie Chapman Catt to Miss Sarah J. Eddy, July 19, 1938, ibid.
  • 20 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, April 8, 1937, ibid.

6Indeed, in 1939, Carrie Chapman Catt donated her “feminist library” to the Library of Congress on behalf of her organization. Formerly the NAWSA's reference collection, the gift included volumes from the libraries of Susan B. Anthony, Alice Stone Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, Mary A. Livermore, Elizabeth Smith Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and other pioneer suffragists and reformers.15 As the suffrage books were not given much value,16 donating them to Congress would preserve them and make them more valuable. Catt lamented the lack of appeal of suffragism as a historical topic: “I regret to tell you that women’s books about women’s rights of any kind never have been a popular subject with men, and not a saleable kind of literature.”17 This depreciation of the sources unveils that Catt was aware that to be regarded as valid historical material and possibly taken into account by male historians, her feminist library had to be backed by some authoritative place of archives. As John Clement Fitzpatrick, the Assistant Chief of the Library of Congress’s Manuscripts Division, reminded Catt, the Library of Congress was the “greatest repository of the papers of distinguished Americans.” He went on to assert that the only way the woman suffrage movement could become part of the national history was to be placed in Washington.18 Fitzpatrick’s rationale definitely struck a chord with Catt, who was aware that access to her material would give the opportunity to other historians to write about women’s rights. When reflecting upon the availability of her collection in the Library of Congress, Catt confided: “I do not think that our histories are perfect. They are particularly biased and I hope that some time somebody will write a shorter and a better history than any we now have.”19 Furthermore, the fear that history would be biased explains her reluctance to consider certain women archives as possible loci for her collection, because she did not think it would get the attention it deserved on the one hand, and on the other hand she feared that the militant branch would have control over these archives. Catt often expressed her concern over the historical interpretation of the role of the militants and she refused to be associated with those who she considered as her political enemies.20 She was as a consequence reluctant to bequeath her collection to the Women’s Archive Committee:

  • 21 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Lewis Jerome Johnson, April 21, 1938, ibid.

The Chairman of the Archive Committee is Mrs. Irwin who wrote a History of the Woman’s Party and also a history of the whole movement for the Council. She got all her information from the Woman’s Party to begin with and had not noticed that there had been a National American Woman Suffrage Association which had been the only such organization in existence for the greater part of seventy-two years. What I feared was that since she and some others of similar outlook were so ill-informed about the whole movement, there might be a bias in their collection.21

  • 22 Anne Kimbell Relph, “The World Center for Women's Archives, 1935-1940,” Signs, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Sprin (...)
  • 23 Catt’s opinion on the matter was also shared by the Massachusetts suffragist Mrs Lewis Jerome Johns (...)
  • 24 Carrie Chapman Catt to Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946, ibid.

7So Catt refused to donate her library to the World Center for Women’s Archives, led by the progressive historian Mary Beard22, because of her connection with the militants.23 Catt was so distrustful of the Woman’s Party that she even questioned Mary Beard’s ability as an historian, depicting her as “a hard worker used to research, but not overly thorough.”24

  • 25 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, July 2, 1937, ibid. Catt stated that she thought that it would (...)

8For Catt, donating her books to the Library of Congress meant permanent access to the sources for future generations, because the Library of Congress had the place and the money to keep and protect her collection. It also inscribed the suffrage movement within the history of the nation as a whole, and within other women’s collections.25

The struggle for suffrage memory: saving the “relics of the past”

  • 26 See Des Jardins, op. cit., Lisa Tetrault, “We Shall Be Remembered: Susan B. Anthony and the Politic (...)
  • 27 Edna L. Stantial to Carrie Chapman Catt, November 20, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts (...)

9The control over memory of the suffrage movement mirrors the power dynamics of suffrage political activism. The authority over history had been an organizational issue from the late 19th century,26 heightened in the years before and after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment – especially with the need felt by the militant branch to produce revised histories that challenged the memory entrenched by the NAWSA through its History of Woman Suffrage –, that took on an elevated purport in the 1930s as those who had lived the suffrage battle felt that younger generations were not interested in the past: “I agree with your statement about the lack of knowledge of the work of the pioneers among the younger members of the League of Women Voters. I have served for a long time on the Massachusetts and the Boston League Board and have been discouraged at the attitude of those now running the organizations there.”27 These remarks illustrate the necessity for younger generations to be familiar with the history of the movement.

  • 28 Carrie Chapman Catt to Miss Harriot Stanton Blatch, August 23, 1937, ibid.
  • 29 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, June 14, 1937, ibid.
  • 30 Carrie Chapman Catt to Miss Glenna S. Tinnan, January 10, 1938, ibid.
  • 31 Kenneth Florey, Women’s Suffrage Memarobilia : An Illustrated Historical Study, Jefferson, N.C. McF (...)
  • 32 Edna Stantial to Carrie Chapman Catt, November 3, 1938, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York (...)
  • 33 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mary Livermore Barrows, February 4, 1938, ibid.

10Catt’s endeavor to donate her library was connected to her high understanding of the materialism of history, as expressed through the metaphor that she used while looking for sources, describing them as “relics of the past”28 This image, that of a trace, is quite revealing and suggests the disappearance of woman suffrage history in public discourse in the 1930s. Catt was indeed trying to bring back or to keep woman suffrage in the public discourse: she employed another image, that of the resurrection, while depicting her attempt to gather books.29 This other religious reference intimated Catt’s profound respect for her past work, as well as her concern about the lack of interest for the suffrage movement in younger generations, as history was intimately connected to political activism. The need for resurrection also showed that the issue of transmission was central. Furthermore, the image of the relics probably echoes the construction of the figure of the suffrage martyr or saint, highlighting that woman suffrage history had long been connected to hagiography. Finally, the simile points to the very material and substantial conditions of books: “The paper, the binding, the ink, and everything that contributes to the making of a book in these days is of such poor quality that the book, itself, is far from immortal.”30 Stowed away in barns or attics, the suffrage books were falling into disrepair, symbolizing the gradual loss of interest in the movement. The very materiality of the history of the suffrage movement is also embodied by the collection of suffrage knickknacks and other promotional objects.31 Indeed, Catt was also trying to gather different objects that might be given to the Smithsonian: Abigail Adams’ portrait, William Garrison’s top hat, cane, frock coat and glasses,32 the desk on which the Declaration of Seneca Falls had been signed, a shawl from Susan B. Anthony, medals or certificates.33

  • 34 http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/millerscrapbooks/
  • 35 Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Re (...)
  • 36 Ibid., p. 20.
  • 37 Carrie Chapman Catt to Beatrice Marsh, August 31, 1934, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York (...)
  • 38 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946, ibid.

11The idea that suffrage records needed to be saved was central to the endeavor undertaken by Catt: it points to the necessity to give women’s voices in the making of history, which extends a key cultural practice undertaken by women suffragists, scrapbooking. Catt donated to the Library of Congress the seven large scrapbooks of Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller, that contained ephemera and memorabilia, documenting of the Geneva Political Equality Club, which the Millers founded in 1897.34 These scrapbooks highlighted a way for suffragists to “save, manage, and reprocess information” and to collect, concentrate and critique “accounts from a press they did not own, to tell their own stories in books they wrote with scissors.”35. Scrapbooks were lasting works that could be bequeathed to others and they participated to the production of cultural knowledge and memory. They are described by Ellen Gruber Garvey as “performing archivalness, acts and gestures of preservation, they express the will to save, organize, and transmit knowledge through a homemade archive”.36 By giving these scrapbooks to the Library of Congress, Catt hoped to publicize these homemade archives. To some extent, the writing of the History of Woman Suffrage echoed scrapbooking, as it was based on clippings Anthony had saved and kept in many trunks (these are the very words used by Catt). This project was a private reworking of the mass-produced press, including individual points of view: “Everything up to the close of the campaign for woman suffrage went into the History of Woman Suffrage. We placed those volumes in the libraries of this country and we feel that the history of woman suffrage had been pretty well recorded.”37 For Carrie Chapman Catt, these volumes represented the ultimate authoritative source on the woman suffrage movement, the ur-text, that perpetuated the memory of the movement: “When the history of Woman Suffrage was written all of these books were examined and any interesting facts were taken from them and put into the early chapters of the history.”38

Unlocking the attic: hunting for books and papers among pioneers.

  • 39 Carrie Chapman Catt to Putnam, August 16, 1938, ibid.
  • 40 Lucy Anthony to Carrie Chapman Catt, June 27, 1937, ibid.
  • 41 Stantial helped Maud Wood Park to gather the papers she gave to Radcliffe college, and later she or (...)
  • 42 Edna Stantial to Carrie Chapaman Catt, December 7, 1939, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New Yor (...)
  • 43 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mr. Wyeth, April 22, 1938, ibid.
  • 44 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Lewis Jerome Johnson, February 25, 1938, ibid.
  • 45 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Stone, June 14, 1937, ibid.
  • 46 Ibid.

12In a letter to Herbert Putnam, who was the chief administrator of the Library of Congress, Catt explained that the library of Lucy Stone had been “locked up in an attic in an unused house for many years. All other pioneers of her age have also gone and their libraries have been scattered.”39 Indeed, Anna Howard Shaw’s books had also been disseminated, since “her medical books had been given to a medical college and her theological volumes to a theological college, and most of her feminist books to various libraries.”40 As described by Edna Stantial, who was very dedicated to the preservation of woman’s history,41 gathering material meant rummaging through old boxes and shelves in barns.42 When attempting to put together her ideal collection, Catt was literally hunting for books: looking for a book by Lydia Maria Child, written and published around 1850, Catt wrote to a relative or possible descendent of Lydia Maria Child.43 She described her chase for the book in many second hand bookstores, in New York, Boston and other cities, before realizing that she had to turn to the children of the pioneers: “I realize that perhaps in the houses of the real pioneers of the movement, those books may have had a place and may still be found in the libraries of the children or grandchildren of these pioneers. I am sure those books would be regarded as uninteresting and unimportant and might easily have found their way to a bonfire.”44 The image of the attic also suggests that suffrage sources were kept in families, a legacy passed on from one generation to the next. The legacy of the woman suffrage movement was thus envisioned by Catt as a family affair. Catt enlisted younger generations and also the descendents of the suffrage pioneers to go around and search their houses, their attics, to find these books.45 Her selections of whom to contact and her choices indicated how biased her vision was, as when she asserted that there was no need to look for sources in the West, as the movement was Eastern.46

13The project undertaken by Catt with the help of descendants was difficult and wearisome. It was a collective project, as she requested the help of others, however she constantly remained the central authoritative figure, the ultimate judge as to what was to be preserved or not.

Keeping authority over suffrage history

  • 47 Des Jardins, op. cit., p. 188.
  • 48 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946, Manuscripts and Archives Division, (...)
  • 49 Robert Booth Fowler, Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician, Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1986, (...)

14Catt had overseen the production of the fifth and sixth volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage and she wrote her own account in Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement with the aid of NAWSA secretary Nettie Shuler, published in 1923. According to Julie Des Jardins, she had managed “to take over the reins of both the NAWSA leadership and its official history.”47 Catt mentioned in one of her letters that knowing about woman history was intertwined with her political involvement, and that she had always felt the need to know about the history of the movement in connection with collective action. She explained that some historical accounts were gendered: “Mrs. Warren’s history of the Revolution tells more than any of the others, I think, about what women did, but as war is a man’s job, men are not in the least interested in any account of what women did.”48 Writing history was political, and according to Catt, women had to possess some form of control over their own history: “Her impulse to have preserved what she considered the truth increased in the 1930s when she became alarmed that no one with the knowledge or authority was telling the suffrage story, and she determined to do something about it.”49 Catt thus came to embody a principle of discursive and historical truth.

  • 50 Lucy Anthony to Carrie Chapman Catt, March 17, 1939, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Pu (...)
  • 51 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, March 23, 1939, ibid.
  • 52 Carrie Chapman Catt to Erwin D. Canham, February 25, 1944, ibid.

15Carrie Chapman Catt was indeed intent on correcting historical errors: in a correspondence with Lucy Anthony, a niece of Susan B. Anthony and the former secretary of Anna Howard Shaw, they discussed inaccuracy in the “so-called encyclopedias for students”50 and Catt suggested the creation of “a committee to consult all the encyclopedias and see that they are corrected when wrong.”51 Catt was the custodian of historical truth. She wrote a letter to Mr. Erwin D. Canham, Editor of the Christian Science Monitor, pointing her objections to the article “Susan B. Anthony – Trail Blazer”, which gave a “completely misleading view of the suffrage movement and Miss Anthony’s part in it.”52. Not only was Catt set on a mission to correct errors outside the movement, but within the movement as well: in a letter to Lucy Anthony, she discussed the publication of a book on Lucy Stone, written by her daughter Alice Stone Blackwell:

  • 53 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, November 9, 1931, ibid.

I think there are things in the Lucy Stone biography that are very desirable to be circulated. It tells, perhaps, a little more clearly than anything else the conditions of the time of her girlhood in the East and the struggles of her early efforts – that part is very valuable. I thought I would buy quite a number of the books and distribute them, after I had read the first few chapters, but when I came to the attacks upon Miss Anthony, I decided that I could not circulate any of the books, and so I never have. I wrote to Alice and begged her to remove certain things, but my letter got to her very late and perhaps she would not have done it anyway. Like the rest of us, she is rather stubborn.53

  • 54 Lucy E. Anthony to Carrie Chapman Catt, January 31, 1937, ibid.

16Lucy Anthony was helping Catt in her efforts to preserve their version of historical truth. She was quick to warn Carrie Chapman Catt whenever an article linking any member of the National American Suffrage Association to “that jail garb tout – or with the Woman’s Party in any sense of course” was published54. Lucy Stone had sent a protest letter to the New York Times, explaining that Miss Shaw, along with the NAWSA, did not regard the “spectacular stunts” of the Woman’s Party as “necessary”. Stone and Catt were keen on distancing themselves with any possible association with the NWP, which shows that the power struggle between the two organizations at stake during the last years of the campaign was duplicated in the historical memory.

  • 55 Carrie Chapman Catt to Rose Young, November 17, 1937, ibid.

17As a response to these statements escaping her control, Catt envisioned the creation of a woman’s publishing company, giving the voice directly to women, as expressed in a November 1937 letter to Rose Young. Catt expounded that the various publishing companies were not interested in printing the work of women suffragists. Catt mentioned Front Door Lobby by Maud Wood Park, turned down by Macmillan Company, and a book written by Mrs Raymond Brown about the New York campaign, that did not interest any publisher. She also stated that Little, Brown & Company also wanted some money upfront for a reprint of Alice Stone Blackwell’s book. She concluded as follows: “I still think (but do not know how) that we should form a woman’s publishing company in order to get the history of woman suffrage properly recorded.”55 A couple of weeks later, in a missive to Edna L. Stantial, Catt delineated her project:

  • 56 Carrie Chapman Catt to Edna L. Stantial, Dember 2, 1937, ibid.

My idea of a woman’s publishing company is this. We would gather all the lists of women’s names connected with different organizations and we would do our own circularizing, urging women to buy a set of books which we would produce, giving a lowered price if the whole set could be purchased.
There would be Mrs. Raymond Brown’s book, Mrs. Park’s “Lobby”, Miss Blackwell’s “Lucy stone – Pioneer”, the play, and some others, I think.
My idea of such a publishing company would be that it should be able to offer some of these books to libraries for the cost of transportation or for a small sum in addition. The truth is, I do not find much encouragement and I do not know of any woman who stands ready to put her money in it.56

  • 57 Edna L. Stantial to Carrie Chapman Catt, November 20, 1937, ibid.

18Catt wanted to organize her own circulation of books (“our own circularizing”), as if she wished to keep the history of suffrage alive only within some suffrage circles or women’s organizations. Yet there were two aspects to her scheme: propagating the history first to younger generations within these organizations, and to the rest of the American public thanks to the librarian network. However money remained a problematic issue.57

The authoritarian figure

  • 58 Earl Conrad to Carrie Chapman Catt, May 28, 1939, ibid.

19On May 28, 1939, Catt was contacted by Earl Conrad, who was writing a biography on Harriet Tubman. He delineated his historiographic purpose, which was to rehabilitate a very important historical figure: “It is my belief that she is one of the foremost women in the nation’s history and I wish to “resurrect” her reputation.”58 Earl Conrad was searching for information concerning Tubman’s feminist contribution and was persuaded that Tubman had participated to women rights conventions, alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Antony. Catt started to look for information, and wrote to Mrs. Alfred G. Lewis:

  • 59 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Alfred G. Lewis, June 7, 1939, ibid.

A man is writing the life of Harriet Tubman. I never heard of her and searched in the woman suffrage history, but could not find her name. He intends to say she was about the greatest woman this country ever knew. (…) He appealed to me for information and I replied that I had never heard of her. I am now writing to ask if there us any one known to you, now living in Auburn, to whom I could write and I would like to have you ask the oldest of the suffragists in Geneva if they ever heard of Harriet Tubman. She was a colored woman who was illiterate, but she was a brave patriot.59

  • 60 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, June 27, 1939, ibid.
  • 61 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, June 8, 1939, ibid.
  • 62 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, August 19, 1939, ibid.
  • 63 Earl Conrad to Carrie Chapman Catt, June 16, 1939, ibid. Conrad mentions that he had written to the (...)

20Catt turned to the History of Woman Suffrage for information, as she always did and concluded, as she could not find Tubman’s name, that she was not important. This points to the faith Catt held in the ur-text of the movement and highlights the repetition of mechanisms of exclusion and thus the limits of Catt’s approach to historiography. Catt wrote to Conrad that if none of the “people who were outstanding in the suffrage movement” had written about Tubman, it definitely meant that she did not mean much.60 Furthermore, the last comment of Catt describing Tubman as a “colored woman who was illiterate, but … a brave patriot” also suggests the problematic relationship she had with African-American leaders and her paternalism towards them. In a letter sent the next day to Earl Conrad, Catt explained that if Harriot Stanton Blatch had never heard of Catt, whereas “her mother was one of the leaders in the movement long before the Civil War,” it definitely meant that Conrad was distorting history since he did not “have quite evidence enough to show her great importance in the movement when, in the whole record of the campaigns of her day, there seems to be no mention of her.”61 In the reference to Harriot’s mother, Catt probably suggested a familial paradigm, according to which suffrage authority remains within the same family. Also Carrie Chapman Catt was intent on preserving the reputation of her “family.” When asked by Conrad about whether Susan B. Anthony had ever met with staunch opposition, Catt asserted that there never were such problems, even if certain leaders disagreed.62 Conrad used the same type of argumentation when he explained to Catt that he had written to the grandchildren of William Lloyd Garrison, who had told him that their mother (Fanny Garrison) had spoken on the same platform as Harriet Tubman.63 The correspondence between Catt and Conrad lasted many months, and Catt’s stubborn denial of Tubman’s involvement in the woman’s rights movement reached new heights in a January 1940 missive:

  • 64 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, January 25, 1940, ibid.

Harriet Tubman undoubtedly agreed with the proposition of the women to gain the vote, but her idea was far away from that as an aim. She did not assist the suffragists or the woman suffrage movement at any time. It was they who were attempting to assist her. That much I know from the nature of things and to make Harriet Tubman a leader in the woman suffrage movement and in all other good movements is quite wrong. There was no leadership on the part of the colored people at that time and there is very little even now. I have not the slightest doubt that she did good things and I hope you can get a good deal of information about her, but do not try to make her what she was not.64

  • 65 Earl Conrad to Carrie Chapman Catt, February 3, 1940, ibid. Earl Conrad then shows his knowledge of (...)

21Catt’s dogmatism and bigotry knew no bounds. Her conceited tone, her reference to “the nature of things”, her assertion that there was no possible leadership on the part of African-Americans seem nonsensical at best. Conrad was infuriated, and he retorted in a letter, “I am even more amazed, even stunned, at your impression of negro leadership, or rather, as you say, their lack of it, and I naturally feel that you have dismissed a remarkable woman, together with a whole people, rather too categorically”65. Conrad went on to give Catt a historical and historiographic lesson, rebuking her for her bad faith and dishonesty in disregarding Susan B. Anthony’s ecstatic praises of Tubman: “So don’t scorn those records which reunite the greatest Negro woman of all time with the greatest white woman of American history; for if you do, Susan Anthony will have to be remembered as, in principle, a white chauvinist, which, I believe, she was not.” Conrad indeed replaced Susan B. Anthony’s desertion of abolitionism and her lack of support for African Americans’ rights in the context of the post-Civil War period, explaining that she was first and foremost critical of male domination, but that her tactical steps had disastrous consequences. Quoting a large array of historical sources, Conrad taught Catt a coherent and well-grounded historiographic lesson, thereby debunking her autocratic position:

I would say this: the province of Negro leadership and Negro contribution is one of the largest and least explored in American historiography. (Also the whole sphere of woman suffrage runs the Negro question a close second for its neglect at the hands of the historians. Surely you will not regard the Official history as a history of suffrage. It may be a collection of documents and a journalistic record, but insofar as the stream of the suffrage movement, in its relation to the rest of American history is concerned, none has yet related the two. The same goes for the Negro.)

  • 66 Little has been written about the life and achievements of Belva Lockwood, see Jill Norgren, Belva (...)
  • 67 Emily Newell Blair to Carrie Chapman Catt, June 9, 1930, ibid.
  • 68 Carrie Chapman Catt to Emily Newell Blair, July 3, 1930, ibid.

22Catt’s bias towards Harriet Tubman highlights the limits of Catt’s historical and discursive authority, and shows also that she could verge on authoritarianism, as she seemed incapable of challenging her own views. Tubman was not the only historical figure to suffer from such fierce disapproval. Another example is given by Catt’s correspondence with Emily Newell Blair, who was looking for information on Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood,66 having found little details about her activities and her life in The History of Woman Suffrage.67 Catt answered with scathing remarks about Lockwood, noting that she never thought her an important woman. She wrote that being the first woman allowed to practice before the United States Supreme Court, looking back upon history, “does not look so tremendous an undertaking.”68 However, Catt acknowledged that she might have been influenced by suffrage pioneer’s opinion on Lockwood:

I may be entirely in the wrong and it is not unlikely that I have been prejudiced by the old pioneer suffragists who made comments in my presence. There were quite a number of women who developed under the early suffrage movement who were never really a part of it, but were agitators without any definite aim or cooperative helpfulness. The women who were of Mrs. Lockwood’s age and older than she did not like nor approve of her, and perhaps I got the idea from them that her chief claim to public appreciation was through her own self-propaganda.
Please do not use any of these ideas which I am merely passing on to you as the recollection of one whose lifetime overlapped that of Mrs. Lockwood and whose lives, therefore, came somewhat in contact with each other. You may discover heroism about which I never knew.

  • 69 Carric Chapman Catt to Miss Otelia Cromwell, August 9, 1946, ibid.

23These observations qualified some of Catt’s earlier derogatory comments and show that, to some extent, Catt was capable of self-reflection. In 1946, Catt confided in a letter that “I will tell you quite privately that I knew Lucy Stone, Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton very well, and I think the two sides were somewhat unjust to each other, and consequently the written word of one side may not tell the entire truth of the other side. Please do not quote me as saying this. I am only telling you that this is my honest opinion which I have never revealed to the world at large.”69

  • 70 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, June 14, 1937, ibid.

24As the custodian of suffrage history and historiography, Catt found, sifted, analyzed and recirculated writings. To some extent, she was herself a library and a publishing house, correcting historical accounts, buying and distributing books that she cherished. Thus her “perfect library” would be the spitting image of herself and her beliefs, excluding the militant branch of the National Woman’s Party and ignoring the African-American suffragists, focusing on the pioneer figures she cherished. Her library deposited in 1939 was the epitome of Catt’s historical and discursive authority. Catt was eager to transmit the memory of the suffrage movement, in “a library worthy the consultation of persons in the future who might wish to actually learn something about the woman movement.”70

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Notes

1 For a thorough discussion of the historiography of the woman’s movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries, see Julie Des Jardins, Women and the Historical Enterprise in America: Gender, Race, and the Politics of Memory, 1880-1945, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2003, especially Chapter 6, “Remembering Organized Feminism.” See also Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

2 Pierre Karila-Cohen « L'autorité, objet d'histoire sociale », Le Mouvement Social 3/2008 (n° 224), p. 3-8.

3 Gérard Leclerc, Histoire de l'autorité : l'assignation des énoncés culturels et la généalogie de la croyance, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1996.

4 In a letter to Lucy Anthony, Catt explains that a woman she had never heard of, had sent her two pictures of Frances Wright and Ernestine Rose, Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, June 14, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library. Catt was also contacted by Edith Bolling Wilson to Carrie Chapman Catt, June 7, 1924, ibid.

5 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, June 14, 1937, ibid.

6 Letter from Catt to Miss Glenna S. Tinnan, Executive Secretary, World Center for Women’s Archives, NYC, January 10, 1938, ibid.

7 Carrie Chapman Catt to Harriot Stanton Blatch, August 23, 1937, ibid.

8 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lewis Jerome Johnson, April 21, 1938, ibid.

9 Catt was very wary of Inez Irwin, who had written a history of the National Woman’s Party, Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Lewis Jerome Johnson, April 21, 1938, ibid.

10 The Federal Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration shows how preserving memory was seen as a vehicle to reflect US pluralism and to promote more inclusive political ideals.

11 “Honors at Capital Paid Mrs. Stanton”, New York Times, November 13, 1941.

12 Des Jardins, p. 203.

13 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Marshall W. Cox, June 25, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

14 Carrie Chapman Catt to the Librarian of the Congressional Library, January 8, 1938, ibid.: “May I have an interview with you concerning the disposal of a library which I have gathered from the archives of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the Leslie Commission, and which includes my own library?”

15 http://www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/coll/043.html

16 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Marshall W. Cox, June 25, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

17 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946.

18 John Clement Fitzpatrick to Carrie Chapman Catt, January 18, year probably 1938, ibid..

19 Carrie Chapman Catt to Miss Sarah J. Eddy, July 19, 1938, ibid.

20 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, April 8, 1937, ibid.

21 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Lewis Jerome Johnson, April 21, 1938, ibid.

22 Anne Kimbell Relph, “The World Center for Women's Archives, 1935-1940,” Signs, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Spring 1979), p. 597-603; Anke Voss-Hubbard, “No Document-No History”: Mary Ritter Beard and the Early History of Women’s Archives,” The American Archivist, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Winter 1995), p. 16-30.

23 Catt’s opinion on the matter was also shared by the Massachusetts suffragist Mrs Lewis Jerome Johnson, who explained that she refused to give her documents to the Women Archives Committee because of their association with the Woman’s Party. She therefore was considering the Harvard College Library or one of the libraries at Boston University, Mrs. Lewis Jerome Johnson to Carrie Chapman Catt, February 20, 1938, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

24 Carrie Chapman Catt to Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946, ibid.

25 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, July 2, 1937, ibid. Catt stated that she thought that it would be a good idea to deposit her material where Susan B. Anthony’s books and pamphlets were held.

26 See Des Jardins, op. cit., Lisa Tetrault, “We Shall Be Remembered: Susan B. Anthony and the Politics of Writing History,” in Christine Ridarsky and Mary Huth, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights, Rochester, N. Y., University of Rochester Press, 2012.

27 Edna L. Stantial to Carrie Chapman Catt, November 20, 1937, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

28 Carrie Chapman Catt to Miss Harriot Stanton Blatch, August 23, 1937, ibid.

29 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, June 14, 1937, ibid.

30 Carrie Chapman Catt to Miss Glenna S. Tinnan, January 10, 1938, ibid.

31 Kenneth Florey, Women’s Suffrage Memarobilia : An Illustrated Historical Study, Jefferson, N.C. McFarland and Company, 2013. This historian is also a collector and it took him years to build his collection, going to yard sales and antique shops to gather different objects. Keeping the memory of the movement depended on very concrete actions to gather the documents.

32 Edna Stantial to Carrie Chapman Catt, November 3, 1938, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

33 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mary Livermore Barrows, February 4, 1938, ibid.

34 http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/millerscrapbooks/

35 Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance, New York, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 4.

36 Ibid., p. 20.

37 Carrie Chapman Catt to Beatrice Marsh, August 31, 1934, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

38 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946, ibid.

39 Carrie Chapman Catt to Putnam, August 16, 1938, ibid.

40 Lucy Anthony to Carrie Chapman Catt, June 27, 1937, ibid.

41 Stantial helped Maud Wood Park to gather the papers she gave to Radcliffe college, and later she organized Park’s papers for a donation to the Library of Congress. She was named archivist of the NAWSA in 1950, and she donated papers related to Carrie Chapman Catt and to the Blackwell family to the Library of Congress.

42 Edna Stantial to Carrie Chapaman Catt, December 7, 1939, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

43 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mr. Wyeth, April 22, 1938, ibid.

44 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Lewis Jerome Johnson, February 25, 1938, ibid.

45 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Stone, June 14, 1937, ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 Des Jardins, op. cit., p. 188.

48 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Ramona Sawyer Barth, April 3, 1946, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

49 Robert Booth Fowler, Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician, Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1986, p. 36.

50 Lucy Anthony to Carrie Chapman Catt, March 17, 1939, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library.

51 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, March 23, 1939, ibid.

52 Carrie Chapman Catt to Erwin D. Canham, February 25, 1944, ibid.

53 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, November 9, 1931, ibid.

54 Lucy E. Anthony to Carrie Chapman Catt, January 31, 1937, ibid.

55 Carrie Chapman Catt to Rose Young, November 17, 1937, ibid.

56 Carrie Chapman Catt to Edna L. Stantial, Dember 2, 1937, ibid.

57 Edna L. Stantial to Carrie Chapman Catt, November 20, 1937, ibid.

58 Earl Conrad to Carrie Chapman Catt, May 28, 1939, ibid.

59 Carrie Chapman Catt to Mrs. Alfred G. Lewis, June 7, 1939, ibid.

60 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, June 27, 1939, ibid.

61 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, June 8, 1939, ibid.

62 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, August 19, 1939, ibid.

63 Earl Conrad to Carrie Chapman Catt, June 16, 1939, ibid. Conrad mentions that he had written to the library in Syracuse to gather some information. He also adds: “Offhand I think I would agree with you that Harriet had no outstanding role in suffrage work. That she participated, however, is certain. That she lent her voice and name to the cause on occasion I feel is also certain. In the main her career is that of an abolitionist and a soldier during the Civil War. Naturally, however, for biographical purposes I want to be as complete as possible on her suffrage role.”

64 Carrie Chapman Catt to Earl Conrad, January 25, 1940, ibid.

65 Earl Conrad to Carrie Chapman Catt, February 3, 1940, ibid. Earl Conrad then shows his knowledge of the movement and its history as he reminds Catt of the 1869 convention of the Equal Rights Association that split the suffrage movement “with the Negro remaining as the key question in woman suffrage history from that time onward. It is that stream of conflict that has run through the history of your movement that became reflected in your observations about Harriet and your coolness toward the idea that the Negroes ever had leaders.”

66 Little has been written about the life and achievements of Belva Lockwood, see Jill Norgren, Belva Lockwood: The Woman who would be President, New York, New York University Press, 2007.

67 Emily Newell Blair to Carrie Chapman Catt, June 9, 1930, ibid.

68 Carrie Chapman Catt to Emily Newell Blair, July 3, 1930, ibid.

69 Carric Chapman Catt to Miss Otelia Cromwell, August 9, 1946, ibid.

70 Carrie Chapman Catt to Lucy Anthony, June 14, 1937, ibid.

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Référence électronique

Claire Delahaye, « “The perfect library”
Carrie Chapman Catt and the authoritative historiography
 », Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Colloques, mis en ligne le 26 novembre 2014, consulté le 16 juin 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/67415 ; DOI : 10.4000/nuevomundo.67415

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Auteur

Claire Delahaye

Université de Paris-Est/Marne-la-Vallée
claire.delahaye@u-pem.fr

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