Is Determining A Critical Edition Critical? A Critical Edition of Carrie Chapman Catt's 1916 Presidential Address to the National American Woman Suffrage Association

by Terry Croy


The primary intent of this paper is to present the critical edition of Carrie Chapman Catt's 1916 Presidential Address to the National American Suffrage Association. However another significant purpose of this essay is to illustrate the dangers of failing to construct the critical edition of a text. This speech merely serves as one example of the difficulties a rhetorical critic faces when attempting to do his/her work with an incomplete or inaccurate version of the text. Unfortunately it appears that the practice of critics and anthologists using texts that had glaring textual inaccuracies is not all that rare. It is my hope that this example will urge us all to be more cognizant of this issue.

In this essay I will first provide some background to this rhetor and establish the context of the speech prior to describing my detective story in tracking down the critical edition. Second, I will recount how I constructed the critical edition of this text. Finally, I will argue that in this particular example the missing parts of the speech are the more meaningful features, and thus must not be overlooked.


In 1900 Carrie Chapman Catt succeeded Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Catt was and has continued to be labeled "the organizer" of the suffrage movement. In fact, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell has argued that Catt's gift to the women's movement was her talent for organization.(1) Her exceptional organizational skill was a significant reason why Anthony chose Catt as her successor. During this time, Anthony felt that the movement was in a transitional period and that Catt's talents were essential to helping the movement evolve from the old guard to the new.

Catt's first presidency, 1900-1904, is usually not seen as a dynamic time for the movement. Suffragists described the organization at this time as being caught in the doldrums.(2) However she did find success in her leadership role in the formation of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in 1902. Additionally, Catt's personal life was distracting. Both her and her husband were quite ill and her husband's illness eventually overtook him in 1905.

In December of 1915 she accepted the presidency of the NAWSA again and this term would be quite different from her first. Catt immediately set a goal to have a woman suffrage plank in the platforms of both the Republican and Democratic parties at their conventions in June 1916. At the Republican convention in Chicago, the suffragists rallied intensely and gained a woman suffrage plank in the party platform. Unfortunately this platform was diluted by a states-right rider,(3) which meant that the party supported woman suffrage, but only by state referendum. The Democrats also instituted a plank in favor of woman suffrage by state action. Although woman suffrage was not a concern for President Wilson in the early part of the year, Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party candidate, put pressure on the both the Republican and Democratic parties when he voiced support for a Federal Woman Suffrage amendment on April 28th.(4) Morgan argued that because of these events, party competition had begun to work for woman suffrage.(5)

Although Catt felt that party competition could assist the movement in achieving its goal, she still voiced considerable concern because the dominant political parties had only endorsed woman suffrage by state action. She had fought bitterly at the Republican and Democratic conventions for a federal woman suffrage plank and was disappointed with the adoption of the states referendum plank. Thus, Catt believed the movement was in grave danger. In a special meeting of the NAWSA board, hurriedly called following the adjournment of the Democratic Convention, she asserted: "Congress would hide behind those state rights planks and shut us out from Congress forever."(6) At this meeting she also called a NAWSA convention to convene before the November election.(7) In the July 1, 1916, edition of The Woman's Journal, Catt stated that, "[at the NAWSA convention] We will try out the real meaning of what the planks given us in both the Republican national convention and Democratic national convention really stand for."(8)

The convention was set for the first week in September in Atlantic City, N.J. The principal event of this convention was the "three cornered debate" that was to take place the first day of the convention, September 6th. The purpose of this debate was to decide which policy the NAWSA should follow: concentrate on the Federal Amendment, concentrate on State legislation, or continue to work for both. Catt, along with many of the suffragists, felt that the organization needed to decide on a clear course of action to be taken, and this had to be decided before the November national presidential election. This was the first time that the dominant political parties had adopted a suffrage plank; consequently, NAWSA had to quickly determine how it was going to consolidate its efforts.


On the afternoon of September 7th, the second day of the convention, Catt presented her presidential address to the NAWSA, entitled "The Crisis." I was introduced to this speech in Karlyn Kohrs Campbell's anthology, Man Cannot Speak For Her, Volume II.(9) Being moved by the rhetor and the speech, I set out to examine both more closely.

However, tracking down the critical edition of this text was a difficult ordeal. As I began my research on this text I found that the Campbell version, titled "The Crisis" was only the first half of the speech, specifically the first 19 pages. The September 16, 1916 edition of The Woman's Journal presented a different text, presumably the complete version since it contained another 16 pages of the speech wherein Catt outlined her "Winning Plan." After discovering this I traveled to the New York Public Library to go through their collection of Catt's papers. Here I found a manuscript titled "The Crisis," however this was only the first half of the version of the speech printed in The Woman's Journal. Campbell states that she found her version of the speech in this collection. I then went to examine the collection of Catt's papers at the Library of Congress, and I was fortunate enough to find a manuscript that, although untitled and undated, matched the second half of the version printed in The Woman's Journal. Hence, I had two different texts that when put together matched the version of the text presented in The Woman's Journal. Campbell herself points out that Catt also revealed her "Winning Plan" at this convention, but is unclear about whether they were two separate speeches or one speech. As a preface to this speech Campbell states that Catt gave this address, "The Crisis," but also indicates that Catt presented her "Winning Plan" at this convention. Specifically Campbell states that the "National American Woman Suffrage Association President Carrie Chapman Catt made this address ["The Crisis"] at the special 1916 convention of the NAWSA at Atlantic City, at which she also presented her "Winning Plan" for the passage of the federal suffrage amendment."(10) Campbell goes on to briefly describe the "Winning Plan" as being "highly pragmatic."(11) The discussions of the speech in Volume I and Volume II of Man Cannot Speak for Her do not clearly explicate that "The Crisis" and "The Winning Plan" were in fact one speech that was given at the same time.(12)

There also is other evidence to support that both of these manuscripts are in fact one speech. First I found the program for the convention, in The Woman's Journal, which indicates that Catt was scheduled to speak only once at this convention - Thursday afternoon, on September 7th.(13) However part of the confusion stems from that fact that this program also states that the title of Catt's address was "The Crisis." However, The New York Times on September 8, 1916, quoted from both parts of the speech - the first, where Catt discussed "The Crisis" and the second, where Catt presented her "Winning Plan." For example, the article provided an extended excerpt from Catt's speech. This excerpt included sections of both "The Crisis" and "The Winning Plan". Specifically the excerpt included lines 403-407 which are the last 4 lines of the "The Crisis". Also included, and immediately following this paragraph, is the first paragraph of "The Winning Plan," lines 408-414.(14) The excerpt provided is continuous; indicating that this was a complete excerpt from one speech. Additionally, Van Voris claims that at this convention Catt made a long address, "The Crisis," "in which she insisted the federal amendment must be gained through total cooperation from the states," which again was an argument presented in the second half of the text.(15)

There does seem to be a logical explanation for the uniqueness of this text. The complete version of this speech reads as though it were two distinct speeches that were pasted together with a very short and abrupt transition. The reason for this is most likely that it was two different speeches that were written at different times, however Catt intended to present them together. The first part of the speech set out to prove that the movement was in a "Crisis" and the second half of the speech unveiled Catt's "Winning Plan."

The "Winning Plan" (or second half of the speech) had been intentionally cloaked in secrecy. Catt had called a long board and executive council meeting prior to this convention. These deliberations were secret and Catt asserted, "I there outlined the plan we followed to the end."(16) At this meeting, Catt swore the council to secrecy to prevent anti-suffragists from mounting an organized opposition before the convention.(17) Catt did not want to reveal the "Winning Plan" and was committed to keeping her plan secret until she spoke at the convention. Even in the article Catt wrote for the New York Times Magazine that was printed three days before the start of the convention, Catt did not even hint at her "Winning Plan."(18) She did, however, argue that there was a "Crisis" in the movement and that at the "emergency" convention the organization would have a "three-cornered debate" which would determine the specific direction the organization would follow. Additionally Catt purposely and strategically chose to give her speech the day following the three cornered debate. At this debate, the day before she spoke, there were two speakers who advocated for concentration on the federal amendment, two speakers who spoke for concentrating on the state work and two speakers who spoke for continuing the present policy. Clearly the central concern at this convention was to determine the specific direction the NASWA would take in response to the national political climate. The question facing Catt as the president, and the organization, was how to capitalize on the upcoming national presidential election. Consequently, I would argue that Catt's "Winning Plan" is the more significant feature of this speech and therefore should be attended to more closely.


As stated in my introduction, I believe that this speech should serve as an illustration of the hazards of not taking the time to construct the critical edition of a text. It is my hope that we all will become much more careful to document the most complete and accurate version of the speeches we use. In this case, I have argued that the "Winning Plan" is the more salient feature of this text which obviously is open to dispute by any other critic. However, we must be careful to take the time to include the entire and most accurate text, or explain why we chose not to, if we are to truly engage the text and each other in our critical endeavors.

1. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Man Cannot Speak For Her, Volume I, (New York: Praeger, 1989), 164-165.

2. Ibid.

3. Jacqueline Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life, (New York: The Feminist Press at The City of New York, 1987), 131.

4. David Morgan, Suffragists and Democrats: The Politics of Woman Suffrage in America, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1972), 107.

5. Suffrage Planks of 1916: The Democratic and Republican Parties supported suffrage on a state by state basis, the Progressive and Prohibition Parties supported suffrage by State and Federal action, and the Socialist Party supported immediate adoption of the "Anthony Amendment." The Woman's Journal, July 1, 1916.

6. Ibid., 133.

7. Within a half an hour of the adjournment of the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis on Friday, June 16th, a special meeting of the Board of the NAWSA was hurriedly called. At this meeting it was decided that: 1) that the "NAWSA make an immediate demand upon the Judiciary Committee of Congress for a report upon the Federal Amendment," 2) that an emergency convention be called to be held in late July or early August, "to determine the National Association's position in the coming campaign," and 3) Mrs. Catt would send a telegram to President Wilson asking him to state his position of the plank and to give his "precise interpretation of its meaning." This is taken from the "Minutes of the NAWSA meeting, July 16, 1916." Carrie Catt papers, New York Public Library.

8. The Woman's Journal, July 1, 1916.

9. Campbell, Vol. II, 483-502.

10. Campbell, Volume II, 483.

11. Ibid.

12. Campbell states in Volume I that "Catt made the keynote address at the special Atlantic City convention to prepare NAWSA leaders for her 'Winning Plan'" and "The change in attitude created by this speech ['The Crisis'] prepared Catt's audience to see themselves as part of a historical process on whose achievements they could build by accepting her 'Winning Plan.'" Campbell, Volume I, 167-168.

13. "Program of the National Convention at Atlantic City, September 6-10," The Woman's Journal, August 26, 1916.

14. "Will Use $1,000,000 In Suffrage Work: National Association Plans Unprecedented Activity in the Coming Year," The New York Times, September 8, 1916.

15. Van Voris, 133.

16. Ida Husted Harper, History of Woman Suffrage, as quoted in Mary Gray Peck, Carrie Chapman Catt: A Biography, (The H.W. Wilson Company, 1944), 256. See also Campbell, Volume II, 483.

17. Campbell, Volume II, 483.

18. Carrie Chapman Catt, "Crisis in Suffrage Movement, Says Mrs. Catt," The New York Times Magazine, September 3, 1916.