As the meeting went on I saw that she was growing more and more enthusiastic, and toward the end of the evening I quietly asked her if she did not wish to say a few words. She said she would say a very few. I had put myself at the end of the programme, intending to talk about twenty minutes; but before beginning my speech I introduced the countess, and by this time she was so enthusiastic that, to my great delight, she used up my twenty minutes in a capital speech in which she came out vigorously for woman suffrage. It gave us the best and timeliest help we could have had, and was a great impetus to the movement.
In London, at the Alliance Council of 1911, we were entertained for the first time by a suffrage organization of men, and by the organized actresses of the nation, as well as by the authors.
In Stockholm, the following year, we listened to several of the most interesting women speakers in the world—Selma Lagerlof, who had just received the Nobel prize, Rosica Schwimmer of Hungary, Dr. Augsburg of Munich, and Mrs. Philip Snowden of England. Miss Schwimmer and Mrs. Snowden have since become familiar to American audiences, but until that time I had not heard either of them, and I was immensely impressed by their ability and their different methods—Miss Schwimmer being all force and fire, alive from her feet to her finger-tips, Mrs. Snowden all quiet reserve and dignity. Dr. Augsburg wore her hair short and dressed in a most eccentric manner; but we forgot her appearance as we listened to her, for she was an inspired speaker.
Selma Lagerlof's speech made the great audience weep. Men as well as women openly wiped their eyes as she described the sacrifice and suffering of Swedish women whose men had gone to America to make a home there, and who, when they were left behind, struggled alone, waiting and hoping for the message to join their husbands, which too often never came. The speech made so great an impression that we had it translated and distributed among the Swedes of the United States wherever we held meetings in Swedish localities.
Miss Lagerlof interested me extremely, and I was delighted by an invitation to breakfast with her one morning. At our first meeting she had seemed rather cold and shy—a little "difficult," as we say; but when we began to talk I found her frank, cordial, and full of magnetism. She is self-conscious about her English, but really speaks our language very well. Her great interest at the time was in improving the condition of the peasants near her home. She talked of this work and of her books and of the Council programme with such friendly intimacy that when we parted I felt that I had always known her.
At the Hague Council in 1913 I was the guest of Mrs. Richard Halter, to whom I am also indebted for a beautiful and wonderful motor journey from end to end of Holland, bringing up finally in Amsterdam at the home of Dr. Aletta Jacobs. Here we met two young Holland women, Miss Boissevain and Rosa Manus, both wealthy, both anxious to help their countrywomen, but still a little uncertain as to the direction of their efforts. They came to Mrs. Catt and me and asked our advice as to what they should do, with the result that later they organized and put through, largely unaided, a national exposition showing the development of women's work from 1813 to 1913. The suffrage-room at this exposition showed the progress of suffrage in all parts of the world; but when the Queen of Holland visited the building she expressed a wish not to be detained in this room, as she was not interested in suffrage. The Prince Consort, however, spent much time in it, and wanted the whole suffrage movement explained to him, which was done cheerfully and thoroughly by Miss Boissevain and Miss Manus. The following winter, when the Queen read her address from the throne, she expressed an interest in so changing the Constitution of Holland that suffrage might possibly be extended to women. We felt that this change of heart was due to the suffrage-room arranged by our two young friends—aided, probably, by a few words from the Prince Consort!
Immediately after these days at Amsterdam we started for Budapest to attend the International Alliance Convention there, and incidentally we indulged in a series of two-day conventions en route—one at Berlin, one at Dresden, one at Prague, and one at Vienna. At Prague I disgraced myself by being in my hotel room in a sleep of utter exhaustion at the hour when I was supposed to be responding to an address of welcome by the mayor; and the high-light of the evening session in that city falls on the intellectual brow of a Bohemian lady who insisted on making her address in the Czech language, which she poured forth for exactly one hour and fifteen minutes. I began my address at a quarter of twelve and left the hall at midnight. Later I learned that the last speaker began her remarks at a quarter past one in the morning.
It may be in order to add here that Vienna did for me what Berlin had done for Susan B. Anthony—it gave me the ovation of my life. At the conclusion of my speech the great audience rose and, still standing, cheered for many minutes. I was immensely surprised and deeply touched by the unexpected tribute; but any undue elation I might have experienced was checked by the memory of the skeptical snort with which one of my auditors had received me. He was very German, and very, very frank. After one pained look at me he rose to leave the hall.
"THAT old woman!" he exclaimed. "She cannot make herself heard."
He was half-way down the aisle when the opening words of my address caught up with him and stopped him. Whatever their meaning may have been, it was at least carried to the far ends of that great hall, for the old fellow had piqued me a bit and I had given my voice its fullest volume. He crowded into an already over-occupied pew and stared at me with goggling eyes.
"Mein Gott!" he gasped. "Mein Gott, she could be heard ANYWHERE."
The meeting at Budapest was a great personal triumph for Mrs. Catt. No one, I am sure, but the almost adored president of the International Suffrage Alliance could have controlled a convention made up of women of so many different nationalities, with so many different viewpoints, while the confusion of languages made a general understanding seem almost hopeless. But it was a great success in every way—and a delightful feature of it was the hospitality of the city officials and, indeed, of the whole Hungarian people. After the convention I spent a week with the Contessa Iska Teleki in her chateau in the Tatra Mountains, and a friendship was there formed which ever since has been a joy to me. Together we walked miles over the mountains and along the banks of wonderful streams, while the countess, who knows all the folk-lore of her land, told me stories and answered my innumerable questions. When I left for Vienna I took with me a basket of tiny fir-trees from the tops of the Tatras; and after carrying the basket to and around Vienna, Florence, and Genoa, I finally got the trees home in good condition and proudly added them to the "Forest of Arden" on my place at Moylan.
In looking back over the ten years of my administration as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, there can be no feeling but gratitude and elation over the growth of the work. Our membership has grown from 17,000 women to more than 200,000, and the number of auxiliary societies has increased in proportion.
Instead of the old-time experience of one campaign in ten years, we now have from five to ten campaigns each year. From an original yearly expenditure of $14,000 or $15,000 in our campaign work, we now expend from $40,000 to $50,000. In New York, in 1915, we have already received pledges of $150,000 for the New York State campaign alone, while Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have made pledges in proportion.
In 1906 full suffrage prevailed in four states; we now have it in twelve. Our movement has advanced from its academic stage until it has become a vital political factor; no reform in the country is more heralded by the press or receives more attention from the public. It has become an issue which engages the attention of the entire nation—and toward this result every woman working for the Cause has contributed to an inspiring degree. Splendid team-work, and that alone, has made our present success possible and our eventual triumph in every state inevitable. Every officer in our organization, every leader in our campaigns, every speaker, every worker in the ranks, however humble, has done her share.
I do not claim anything so fantastic and Utopian as universal harmony among us. We have had our troubles and our differences. I have had mine. At every annual convention since the one at Washington in 1910 there has been an effort to depose me from the presidency. There have been some splendid fighters among my opponents—fine and high-minded women who sincerely believe that at sixty-eight I am getting too old for my big job. Possibly I am. Certainly I shall resign it with alacrity when the majority of women in the organization wish me to do so. At present a large majority proves annually that it still has faith in my leadership, and with this assurance I am content to work on.
Looking back over the period covered by these reminiscences, I realize that there is truth in the grave charge that I am no longer young; and this truth was once voiced by one of my little nieces in a way that brought it strongly home to me. She and her small sister of six had declared themselves suffragettes, and as the first result of their conversion to the Cause both had been laughed at by their schoolmates. The younger child came home after this tragic experience, weeping bitterly and declaring that she did not wish to be a suffragette any more—an exhibition of apostasy for which her wise sister of eight took her roundly to task.
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself," she demanded, "to stop just because you have been laughed at once? Look at Aunt Anna! SHE has been laughed at for hundreds of years!"
I sometimes feel that it has indeed been hundreds of years since my work began; and then again it seems so brief a time that, by listening for a moment, I fancy I can hear the echo of my childish-voice preaching to the trees in the Michigan woods.
But long or short, the one sure thing is that, taking it all in all, the struggles, the discouragements, the failures, and the little victories, the fight has been, as Susan B. Anthony said in her last hours, "worth while." Nothing bigger can come to a human being than to love a great Cause more than life itself, and to have the privilege throughout life of working for that Cause.
As for life's other gifts, I have had some of them, too. I have made many friendships; I have looked upon the beauty of many lands; I have the assurance of the respect and affection of thousands of men and women I have never even met. Though I have given all I had, I have received a thousand times more than I have given. Neither the world nor my Cause is indebted to me but from the depths of a full and very grateful heart I acknowledge my lasting indebtedness to them both.