Biography, Politics, Women's History

Jessie Street, Carrie Chapman Catt & Women’s Movement Internationalism


From her home in New York, at 120 Paine Avenue, New Rochelle, Carrie Chapman Catt writes to Mrs Ashby, a member of the International Woman’s Suffrage Alliance and a colleague in the struggle for women’s rights.

 The date? 1 August 1945.


The subject? The Australian Women’s Charter.


Street is the Charter’s major proponent. In August, she is to be in London, following her attendance as Australia’s delegate at the San Francisco Conference of the UN.

‘I am anxious that you should give her a good chance to see and talk with you privately and at length,’ writes Chapman Catt. ‘Australian women have a dream that they should be able to get women all over the world to endorse their Charter and try to get it adopted in their respective lands …’


‘Please read the Australian Charter carefully,’ she asks.

Thirty years earlier, Rose Schneiderman of New York, NY, is calling for international cooperation, too. Writing in the April 1915 issue of Life and Labour, the journal of the USWTUL first edited by Alice Henry with Miles Franklin, she promotes women’s economic rights:


‘The suffragists have blazed the way for recognition of the economic value of women, value which cannot be enforced without political freedom backed by economic organization.’

 Through her work with the WTUL, advocating equal pay and women’s industrial rights, Schneiderman affirms the broader dimensions of women’s struggle, strengthened when taken across international boundaries and combined with other demands.


 Across centuries and across decades, Schneiderman, Chapman Catt and Street are not alone. In London in 1840, at the International Convention on Slavery, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott meet with women from Britain and the Empire. They are affronted and outraged at being required to downgrade their participation in the International Conference – a cause to which they are devoted through activism and intellect – through being hidden behind a curtain, listening to the debate from the gallery. Not only are women not entitled to be delegates. Not only are speaking rights denied them. They are not allowed to be seen.

The snub causes international rumblings. US women plan their first women’s conference forSeneca Falls, which takes place in 1848. Women’s wage justice is high on the agenda atSeneca Fallsand in Street’s Australian Women’s Charter, which affirms women’s right to engage in paid employment. Almost one hundred years later, Chapman Catt suggests that the old rights andwrongs set out in the Seneca Falls Declaration should be incorporated into the World Women’s Charter, forming the first chapter. Chapter two should incorporate the terms of the Australian Women’s Charter:


‘You should submit this rewritten Charter to such organisations inEnglandas seem most likely to join in a movement for endorsement and adoption. That Charter Mrs. Street could take with her wherever she goes and by such means as you think best, it should next be submitted to all countries …’

 Fifty years after women meet at Seneca Falls, and almost fifty before debates about the content of the Women’s Charter, Life and Labor carries articles from women taking an internationalist view of the labour movement and women’s industrial struggle. Australians are contributors and even more closely associated with the journal. When in January 1906 she moves from Melbourne to Chicago, as first editor Henry brings with her journalistic expertise and respect gained in Australia. She brings along, too, her Women’s Movement activism and the support of confederates and mentors, Catherine Helen Spence  amongst them. She carries letters of introduction from Spence to Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams and Anna Garlin Spencer amongst others. She knows from direct experience, working internationally in the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, that the movement for women’s rights necessarily crosses national boundaries. So does Franklin. She joins Henry in the US in October of the same year, traveling via England. Soon she becomes joint editor of Life and Labor.


 Over the decades of her absence from Australia, Henry maintains her links with women at home. She corresponds with Muriel Heagney and in 1935 her words appear in the forward to Are Men Taking Women’s Jobs?

 ‘Now the national conscience has at length been touched regarding women … the results may react upon the whole field of industry that men too may be the sharers in the benefits.’


 … Women have always been international in their approach to Women’s Movement activism. The struggle for the vote engaged women from all over the world – Australian women travelling to the United Kingdom,United States,Canada and Europe to join their sisters in the struggle. Australian women gained the vote and the right to stand for Parliament in South Australiain 1894, and inWestern Australia women gained the vote in 1899. In 1902, women gained the right to vote in federal elections through the passage of legislation through the federal Parliament, and in 1903 the first women in the British Empire to stand for Parliament did so in Australian federal elections. The year before, 1902, when Vida Goldstein travelled the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt demanded to see her – as the only woman in North America who had the right to vote.

 Jessie Ackerman was one Northern Hemisphere activist who went the other way – travelling some five times to Australia, as a journalist, and writing about her experiences in the 19th and early 20th century.


 This internationalism is important when, at times, Women’s Movement activists appear to believe international activism became prominent in the 1970s and onward, only …

 This is an extract from Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s UNSW PhD thesis ‘Wage Rage – The Struggle for Equal Pay and Pay Equity’ 2007. Her 1979 SJD thesis was on ‘Evidentiary Issues of Consent in Rape’ with the University of Michigan.


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