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Carrie Chapman Catt: Acceptance Speech

The passing of the torch to a new generation was never more evident than at the election in 1900 of Carrie Chapman Catt to the presidency of the NAWSA, a position that had been so closely associated with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and then Susan B. Anthony. It was almost more than the emotion-filled audience could bear. "History of Woman Suffrage" gives the Washington Star  account:

Mrs. Blake not being in the hall, Miss Anthony was made a committee of one to present Mrs. Catt to the convention. The women went wild as, erect and alert, she walked to the front of the platform, holding the hand of her young co-worker, of whom she is extremely fond and of whom she expects great things. Miss Anthony's eyes were tear-dimmed, and her tones were uneven, as she presented to the convention its choice of a leader in words freighted with love and tender solicitude, rich with reminiscences of the past, and full of hope for the future of the new president and her work.

"Suffrage is no longer a theory, but an actual condition," she said, "and new occasions bring new duties. These new duties, these changed conditions, demand stronger hands, younger heads and fresher hearts. In Mrs. Catt you have my ideal leader. I present to you my successor."

By this time half the women were using their handkerchiefs on their eyes and the other half were waving them in the air.

Aware of the double burden of stepping into the shoes of a much-loved, extremely capable, and tireless leader and of assuming the command of a highly complex organization, Carrie Chapman Catt clearly felt humble as she stood before the crowd.

The source for the following speech is History of Woman Suffrage, Elizabeth C. Stanton  et al., eds., Vol. IV, New York, 1902, p. 388.

Good friends, I should hardly be human if I did not feel gratitude and appreciation for the confidence you have shown me; but I feel the honor of the position much less than its responsibility. I never was an aspirant for it. I consented only six weeks ago to stand. I was not willing to be the next president after Miss Anthony. I have known that there was a general loyalty to her which could not be given to any younger worker. Since Miss Anthony announced her intention to retire, there have been editorials in many leading papers expressing approval of her--but not of the cause. She has been much larger than our association. The papers have spoken of the new president as Miss Anthony's successor. Miss Anthony never will have a successor.

A president chosen from the younger generation is on a level with the association, and it might suffer in consequence of Miss Anthony's retirement if we did not still have her to counsel and advise us. I pledge you whatever ability God has given me, but I can not do this work alone. The cause has got beyond where one woman can do the whole. I shall not be its leader as Miss Anthony has been; I shall be only an officer of this association. I will do all I can, but I can not do it without the co-operation of each of you. The responsibility much overbalances the honor, and I hope you will all help me bear the burden.