October 14, 2021

Alexandra Beer House

The Real Estate Experts

Iowa State University may rename Catt Hall because of racist comments

On a cold and rainy afternoon in October 1995, more than 1,000 people gathered outside the building previously called Old Botany for the dedication ceremony of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall.

“I am very proud to have Carrie Chapman Catt as part of Iowa State’s history,” then-university president Martin Jischke said of the 1880 graduate. “This building is a symbol of Iowa State’s commitment to equality.”

It had been 75 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which barred states from denying voting rights based on gender. A skilled political strategist, Catt propelled the movement to victory by making inroads in the hostile South, where white politicians were wary of the suffragists’ historical connection with abolitionists.

And, like other white suffragists, Catt employed arguments to assuage fears of that past alliance.

“[The] present condition in the South makes sovereigns of some negro men, while all white women are their subjects. These are sad but solemn truths,” Catt wrote in a letter to North Carolina Congressman Edwin Webb. “If you want white supremacy, why not have it constitutionally, honorably? The Federal Amendment offers the way.”

More plainly, Catt once said, “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by woman suffrage.”

Another crowd of people gathered outside Catt Hall in June 2020, incensed by what they said were shameless endorsements of white supremacy. Wearing face masks and holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” the protesters demanded the building no longer be named for someone who “strategically appealed to the prejudices of the time,” as one demonstrator said.