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The Story of a Pioneer
Council Episodes


I have said much of the interest attending the international meetings held in Chicago, London, Berlin, and Stockholm.  That I have said less about those in Copenhagen, Geneva, The Hague, Budapest, and other cities does not mean that these were less important, and certainly the wonderful women leaders of Europe who made them so brilliant must not be passed over in silence. First, however, the difference between the Suffrage Alliance meetings and the International Council meetings should be explained.

The Council meetings are made up of societies from the various nations which are auxiliary to the International Council--these societies representing all lines of women's activities, whether educational, industrial, or social, while the membership, including more than eleven million women, represents probably the largest organization of women in the world.  The International Suffrage Alliance represents the suffrage interest primarily, whereas the International Council has only a suffrage department.  So popular did this International Alliance become after its formation in Berlin by Mrs. Catt, in 1904, that at the Copenhagen meeting, only three years later, more than sixteen different nations were represented by regular delegates.

It was unfortunate, therefore, that I chose this occasion to make a spectacular personal failure in the pulpit.  I had been invited to preach the convention sermon, and for the first time in my life I had an interpreter.  Few experiences, I believe, can be more unpleasant than to stand up in a pulpit, utter a remark, and then wait patiently while it is repeated in a tongue one does not understand, by a man who is putting its gist in his own words and quite possibly giving it his own interpretative twist. I was very unhappy, and I fear I showed it, for I felt, as I looked at the faces of those friends who understood Danish, that they were not getting what I was giving them.  Nor were they, for I afterward learned that the interpreter, a good orthodox brother, had given the sermon an ultra-orthodox bias which those who knew my creed certainly did not recognize.  The whole experience greatly disheartened me, but no doubt it was good for my soul.

During the Copenhagen meeting we were given a banquet by the City Council, and in the course of his speech of welcome one of the city fathers airily remarked that he hoped on our next visit to Copenhagen there would be women members in the Council to receive us.  At the time this seemed merely a pleasant jest, but two years from that day a bill was enacted by Parliament granting municipal suffrage to the women of Denmark, and seven women were elected to the City Council of Copenhagen. So rapidly does the woman suffrage movement grow in these inspiring days!

Recalling the International Council of 1899 in London, one of my most vivid pictures has Queen Victoria for its central figure.  The English court was in mourning at the time and no public audiences were being held; but we were invited to Windsor with the understanding that, although the Queen could not formally receive us, she would pass through our lines, receiving Lady Aberdeen and giving the rest of us an opportunity to courtesy and obtain Her Majesty's recognition of the Cause. The Queen arranged with her chamberlain that we should be given tea and a collation; but before this refreshment was served, indeed immediately after our arrival, she entered her familiar little pony-cart and was driven slowly along lines of bowing women who must have looked like a wheat-field in a high wind.

Among us was a group of Indian women, and these, dressed in their native costumes, contributed a picturesque bit of brilliant color to the scene as they deeply salaamed.  They arrested the eye of the Queen, who stopped and spoke a few cordial words to them.  This gave the rest of us an excellent opportunity to observe her closely, and I admit that my English blood stirred in me suddenly and loyally as I studied the plump little figure.  She was dressed entirely and very simply in black, with a quaint flat black hat and a black cape.  The only bit of color about her was a black-and-white parasol with a gold handle.  It was, however, her face which held me, for it gave me a wholly different impression of the Queen from those I had received from her photographs.  Her pictured eyes were always rather cold, and her pictured face rather haughty; but there was a very sweet and winning softness in the eyes she turned upon the Indian women, and her whole expression was unexpectedly gentle and benignant. Behind her, as a personal attendant, strode an enormous East-Indian in full native costume, and closely surrounding her were gentlemen of her household, each in uniform.

By this time my thoughts were on my courtesy, which I desired to make conventional if not graceful; but nature has not made it easy for me to double to the earth as Lady Aberdeen and the Indian women were doing, and I fear I accomplished little save an exhibition of good intentions.  The Queen, however, was getting into the spirit of the occasion.  She stopped to speak to a Canadian representative, and she would, I think, have ended by talking to many others; but, just at the psychological moment, a woman rushed out of the line, seized Her Majesty's hand and kissed it--and Victoria, startled and possibly fearing a general onslaught, hurriedly passed on.

Another picture I recall was made by the Duchess of Sutherland, the Countess of Aberdeen, and the Countess of Warwick standing together to receive us at the foot of the marble stairway in Sutherland House.  All of them literally blazed with jewels, and the Countess of Aberdeen wore the famous Aberdeen emerald.  At Lady Battersea's reception I had my first memorial meeting with Mary Anderson Navarro, and was able to thank her for the pleasure she had given me in Boston so long ago.  Then I reproached her mildly for taking herself away from us, pointing out that a great gift had been given her which she should have continued to share with the world.

"Come and see my baby,'' laughed Madame Navarro.  "That's the best argument I can offer to refute yours.''

At the same reception I had an interesting talk with James Bryce.  He had recently written his American Commonwealth, and I had just read it. It was, therefore, the first subject I introduced in our conversation.  Mr. Bryce's comment amused me.  He told me he had quite changed his opinion toward the suffrage aspirations of women, because so many women had read his book that he really believed they were intelligent, and he had come to feel much more kindly toward them.  These were not his exact words, but his meaning was unmistakable and his mental attitude artlessly sincere.  And, on reflection, I agree with him that the American Commonwealth is something of an intellectual hurdle for the average human mind.

In 1908 the International Council was held in Geneva, and here, for the first time, we were shown, as entertainment, the dances of a country--the scene being an especially brilliant one, as all the dancers wore their native costumes.  Also, for the first time in the history of Geneva, the buildings of Parliament were opened to women and a woman's organization was given the key to the city.  At that time the Swiss women were making their fight for a vote in church matters, and we helped their cause as much as we could.  To-day many Swiss women are permitted to exercise this right--the first political privilege free Switzerland has given them.

The International Alliance meeting in Amsterdam in 1909 was the largest held up to that time, and much of its success was due to Dr. Aletta Jacobs, the president of the National Suffrage Association of Holland.  Dr. Jacobs had some wonderful helpers among the women of her country, and she herself was an ideal leader--patient, enthusiastic, and tireless. 

That year the governments of Australia, Norway, and Finland paid the expenses of the delegates from those countries--a heartening innovation.  One of the interesting features of the meeting was a cantata composed for the occasion and given by the Queen's Royal Band, under the direction of a woman--Catharine van Rennes, one of the most distinguished composers and teachers in Holland. She wrote both words and music of her cantata and directed it admirably; and the musicians of the Queen's Band entered fully into its spirit and played like men inspired.  That night we had more music, as well as a never-to-be-forgotten exhibition of folk-dancing.

The same year, in June, we held the meeting of the International Council in Toronto, and, as Canada has never been eagerly interested in suffrage, an unsuccessful effort was made to exclude this subject from the programme.  I was asked to preside at the suffrage meetings on the artless and obvious theory that I would thus be kept too busy to say much. I had hoped that the Countess of Aberdeen, who was the president of the International Council, would take the chair; but she declined to do this, or even to speak, as the Earl of Aberdeen had recently been appointed Viceroy of Ireland, and she desired to spare him any embarrassment which might be caused by her public activities.  We recognized the wisdom of her decision, but, of course, regretted it; and I was therefore especially pleased when, on suffrage night, the countess, accompanied by her aides in their brilliant uniforms, entered the hall. We had not been sure that she would be with us, but she entered in her usual charming and gracious manner, took a seat beside me on the platform, and showed a deep interest in the programme and the great gathering before us.

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.


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