ISU Grad Paved Way for Females in Politics Nearly 100 Years Ago this Week

AMES, Iowa -- While recent victories by Senator Joni Ernst, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer and Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have broken barriers for females in politics, their accomplishments rest firmly on a foundation laid by 1880 Iowa State University grad Carrie Chapman Catt.

"She was President of the National American Suffrage Association twice and once after Susan B. Anthony back in 1905," said Dianne Bystrom, Director at the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics on the ISU Campus.

Catt left an immediate mark in Ames with a degree in General Science.

"She was the only female in her class. She's one of the first women to ever do a commencement speech here, so I think she really paved the way," said Amy Pilcher, a Ph.D. student in Higher Education at ISU.

Bystrom says she then set her sights on women's voting rights, "She spent 33 years of her life personally fighting for woman's suffrage."

Inside the building that bares her name, yellow roses are displayed prominently and for good reason, they played an important role on Aug. 18 in 1920 as Catt awaited Tennessee's vote to ratify the 19th amendment.

Bystrom said, "People that were pro-suffrage wore the yellow rose, the rose of suffrage and legislators that were anti-suffrage wore red roses."

In order for the ratification to become law it needed three-fourths of the country's support and it came down to Tennessee Legislator Harry Burn who received a letter from his mother about Chapman Catt just moments before the vote.

"'Please help Ms. Catt put the 'rat' in ratification. Be a good boy.' So he changed his rose from red to yellow and they won by one vote," said Bystrom.

Catt's influence is forever remembered on campus, and her work is living proof that anything is possible.

"What you see in that, is if you really are committed to a cause that you stay with it and you persevere and try to enact change," said Bystrom.

Iowa State celebrates this achievement annually on Aug. 26 because that is the official day in 1920 that the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, took effect across the country.