Carrie Chapman Catt to Jane Addams, January 4, 1915




January 4, 1915.

My dear Miss Addams:-

I find myself in the most embarrassing position of a life time. I'd give a good deal for an honorable retreat from it. I certainly would never have consented to the use of my name had I known at the time I did so what I now know or think I know.

You say in your letter to Mrs. Spencer, a copy of which you have kindly sent me, that "Mrs. Schwimmer who had just come from Washington, made me understand quite clearly that Mrs. Catt was in favor of enlarging the Washington meeting to include other women from various parts of the country."

The truth is I never knew there was any Washington meeting in preparation except the one you were to call, until a few days ago and then I began to investigate.

In "Votes for Women", under date of December 4th, I find a letter from Mrs. Lawrence dated November 2nd. I enclose a copy.

This Washington Conference, it seems, had been planned as early as November 2nd; a mass meeting arranged with Mrs. Lawrence as speaker, and a plan made to organize a national movement to carry out Mrs. Lawrence's program. I like and admire Mrs. Lawrence, but think her proposals quite impractical at this time, and I virtually told her that I could not lend my aid to them. This paper was in my house all the time, but like the whole series remained in its wrapper unread until now. I agree I ought to have read it, but I had not. The next development was that those managing Mrs. Lawrence's organization in Washington are Congressional Union workers, and that that organization holds an annual meeting on January 10th. Mrs. Blatch and Anne Martin, both Congressional Union followers, I happen to know are going to the peace meeting. I learn from Helen Gardner that no other organization in Washington is interested in the proposed peace meeting. [page 2]

All this I ought to have known long ago, but didn't. I supposed the conference you proposed to call had a free field and did not dream it was a mere adjunct to one already well under way. It is in the combination of these events that my embarrassment lies.

The Congressional Union is exceedingly distasteful to most of us, not on account of its conflict with the National, nor on account of its personnel, but because it committed the stupendous stupidity of making an anti-democratic campaign when the suffrage question was pending in eleven states and depending for success upon Democratic votes. Our politicians have heard of it and the Democrats, never friendly, have since threatened hostility. As Chairman of the New York Campaign Committee, I must not allow myself to be placed where I seem to sanction that policy. Further, people guilty of so untactical a blunder cannot be trusted to lead in so delicate a situation as the peace question in our own country is at this time. More, as President of the International Alliance, I cannot consort with militants who are extremely out of favor in the Alliance just now. The British militants have been harshly anti-German and the public does not distinguish between the Pankhursts and the Lawrences.

My prayer has been that I might walk so straight a path that I could help pull that body together again at the end of the war. Especially is it important to keep my skirts clear at this particular moment, for a vote is on its rounds to determine whether or not we shall hold an international peace conference in Holland in April. I should lose my only hope of help in the International situation if I manage to get tangled in a press [dispatch] with Mrs. Lawrence's peace conference.

I am sure it was Mrs. Schwimmer who bungled things, although I am equally sure that it was unintentional. I do not know what she told you. I only know that I thought my name was to be one of several to support you in your call for a conference; and that I had no idea that a conference in Washington under the Congressional Union was under way. I know you did not intend to involve me in difficulties, although I cannot see just why you issued so strange a call. I shall form no opinion on that point until I see you.

Please understand that I still think a conference is needed and that I see no objection to the Lawrence groups, nor the Congressional Union uniting with others in such a conference. My distress is that a few disconnected organizations and people have been summoned to Washington supposedly to attend an unorganized conference, whereas they will be mere adjuncts of a conference already arranged and with a program already adopted. [page 3]

I find myself in a dilemma with four horns.

1. I am caught in a Congressional Union and militant trap in which it is uncomfortable to remain and from which it is impossible to escape. For myself I do not care, but this involves two big causes -- the New York campaign and the International Alliance.

2. The peace women are vexed at a call which seems to put the responsibility of it on a suffragist, and they regard me as interfering in their field. (They regard you as one of their own and have no such feeling toward you.) If I explain how my name came to be connected with it so conspicuously, it throws the blame on you or Madame Schwimmer, and this I will not allow to happen.

3. The National suffragists are calling me to task for having joined hands with the Congressional Unionists, and I cannot explain.

4. On the other hand the Congressional Union and militants are certain to regard me as an interloper in their conference long since prepared, and I cannot explain that.

Now, my dear lady, do you see any loop-hole of escape for me? I am most unhappy. If I go to Washington, I fear I cannot explain my connection with the meeting satisfactorily to the gathering or to myself. If I stay away, I am in a still more unenviable position.

I should explain to the list you have sent me that it was through a misunderstanding that my name was given so prominent a position in the call and that after learning the real Washington situation I have decided not to go, but two things deter me.

1. I am inclined to think that you have <been> an unconscious tool. They wanted your support and backing and I am coming down because you may need a rescuing party.

2. It is possible the evidence is not complete and that the situation is not so hopeless as it appears. So I shall be there to help. I have prevailed upon Mrs. Spencer to come with me.

Do you know anything of the January 9th meeting? You have not mentioned it. When do you propose to have the business sessions? Who has accepted the invitations? I am sorry it is all so befuddled. I hope it has not entangled you so disastrously as it has me.


Carrie Chapman Catt [signed]

To Miss Jane Addams.