It’s typical for some newer, and often younger, divisions in a political movement to push harder and more radically than more established moderate, and often older, divisions. The former would see the latter as the stodgy old guard that’s too much a part of the broken system, asks for too little, and compromises too much. Conversely, the latter would see the former as radical upstarts trying to change things too quickly without any thought of unexpected consequences or transition plans. A rash move or bad publicity could trigger backlash and undo years of work by turning public opinion against the movement. In the end, both approaches have value and both are needed to make lasting change.
The more progressive approach gets societal change faster but taking it more moderately makes sure that the change becomes palatable enough to stay. Even if the change is logically fair, it takes time for people to accept it at an emotional level. Most people reject change, even change they mostly agree with, when it feels forced upon them by others. Looking back historically, it’s far easier to admire the people ahead of their time rather than the people working within the reality of their time. It’s easy to forget that those “admirable” radicals were often incredibly difficult people who said a lot of controversial things. A century from now, a polarizing political figure of today might be a beloved freedom fighter or a contemptible villain in that new context. No matter what happens, the moderates will always be seen as having been too moderate, but it does take courage and stamina to stay with a cause and keep toiling year after year, decade after decade for small gains. Doing the unglamourous work of slow societal change, and shepherding laws through to completion can be disheartening and seem worthless compared to the flash and glitz of demonstrations and in your face politics. Disrupting and smashing systems is only one half of the equation; remaking a functioning system from scratch or with the broken pieces is the other. Movements, no matter how noble, would not have lasted without moderates as supporting players.
It was inevitable that the more moderate leaders of National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) would clash with the more radical National Woman’s Party (NWP). The top leaders of NAWSA were born before electricity and cars were invented and were often the first generation to even fight for suffrage much to the dismay of their families. They had seen national suffrage movements get defeated many times but state-by-state suffrage laws were steadily gaining ground. Carrie Chapman Catt and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw had been in the movement for decades and worked personally with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Anthony and Stanton were always more progressive. They were often frustrated that NAWSA became more moderate as the group became bigger and more established.) The leaders of the NWP were born into a much more technologically advanced world and had suffrage role models, often within their own families. They wanted things to move faster and were willing to take drastic action if necessary. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns had been mentored by militant British suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst.
The 1913 suffrage parade in Washington D.C. (Episode 62a) and the aftermath just exacerbated the differences in approaches between Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt. In November of 1913 at the NAWSA convention (also in Washington D.C.) Paul addressed the attendees highlighting all her significant contributions to reviving public interest in suffrage. Catt felt it was out of line and taking a lot of credit for work that was built on the contributions of others. (Paul had barely been in the movement for 2 years and Catt had been in for decades.) Catt criticized her publicly at the convention. There was also the matter that Paul and her group were incredible fundraisers and the treasurer of NAWSA’s National Office felt that some of that money should be given to them despite the fact that Paul’s D.C. unit was never allowed to ask the national office for a penny. In December of 1913, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns left NAWSA altogether and concentrated on their other group, the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage (CU) which later became the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1916.
The personal feud was far from over. Catt regularly spoke out against Paul’s group in the press. Paul never criticized Catt or NAWSA publicly but privately she encouraged women to leave NAWSA and join the NWP. Members of both organizations tried to get the two leaders to reconcile many times but to no avail. Regardless of differing approaches, both leaders answered the call to fight for women’s rights and both fought bravely for suffrage.
This week’s song pick:
“The Call” by Regina Spektor
Video pick is a fan compilation of the Narnia movies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3HobBhXfZI&feature=youtu.be
Episode 65 Sources: