Consider Carrie Chapman Catt's whole life and legacy

Dianne Bystrom: As with any historical figure, Catt’s life should be evaluated in its total in making the decision about the naming of Catt Hall.

For the past 26 plus years, I have conducted research on women political leaders – especially their communication strategies and media coverage as compared to men. Although my published research in journal articles and books has focused on contemporary women political leaders, I’ve also studied the women’s suffrage movement as director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University from July 1996 to August 2018. In my retirement, I speak often on the women’s suffrage movement and continue my reading and research on this topic.

From these perspectives, I offer my comments about Catt and the current consideration of the naming of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall at Iowa State University.

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Response to “ISU’s culture of exclusion on Catt Hall continues”

Jane Cox is a professor emerita from Iowa State University and the author of many one-woman plays, including one on Carrie Chapman Catt, which she performed in twenty-six states, including at the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian.

As I read the commentary Bleeding Heartland published concerning Iowa State University and Catt Hall, I discovered that the writers believe the “university administration had failed to hold open discussions regarding Catt’s actions,” that “Naylor requested that the university hold open forms to discuss Catt’s history of political expedience, but ISU refused to seek student input,” that the university called itself “the best in the country while operating on stolen land,” that the university “neglected to change their recruitment and retention efforts towards BIPOC students in any meaningful way since the 1990s,” that “Iowa State clings to intellectual dishonesty,” that “Iowa State has always hid behind a veil of objectivity to dismiss the concerns of BIPOC,” and that now “the university has locked impacted students out of the renaming process once again.” 

Since I do not believe objectivity is a negative trait, here are a few facts for which there is documentation.

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ISU's culture of exclusion on Catt Hall continues, 26 years later

Heather Strachan, Meron Wondwosen, Bob Mohr, and Allan Nosworthy co-authored this commentary. Iowa State University is revisiting whether to rename Catt Hall.

The September 29th Movement rising

In the Autumn of 1995, Iowa State University’s grand plans to name a building after alumna and women’s suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt were coming to fruition. However, the university administration had failed to hold open discussions regarding Catt’s actions during her lifetime and how her legacy could negatively impact the welcoming community and student life that ISU had committed to build. 

At the time, Sloss Women’s Center Director Celia E. Naylor objected to keeping Catt’s bad-faith, white supremacist actions under wraps from the student body. Naylor requested that the university hold open forums to discuss Catt’s history of political expediency, but ISU refused to seek student input. At the official ceremony, there was no mention of the xenophobic, racist, and classist tactics and writings Catt used to justify suffrage for white women.

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Racism, paideia, personal transformation, and activism

Edward Kelly, Jr. is a former Pentecostal Fundamentalist minister.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his 1963 book Why We Can’t Wait, “Suddenly the truth was revealed that hate is a contagion; that it grows and spreads as a disease; that no society is so healthy that it can automatically maintain its immunity.”

I was a vicious carrier of that disease, marked by the symptoms of fear, hatred, and bigotry. I carried and spread it as a contagion for 30 years as a Fundamentalist preacher. I took great pride in my views, even referring to myself from the pulpit as a “Bible Bigot”—as if intolerance based on scripture was morally acceptable.

In 1996, while serving as an interim pastor in a small Assembly of God Church in eastern Iowa, I experienced a depressive suicidal crisis. There is something to be said about the Buddhist practice of accepting suffering as a part of the human experience. My depressive episode opened me up to introspection. After treatment, I began a long process—taking two decades—involving paideia.

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IA-Gov: Deidre DeJear launches campaign, rolls out endorsements

Deidre DeJear made it official on August 14: she’s running for governor, “because Iowa is worth it.” The 2018 Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of state spent several weeks on the road over the past month hearing about the challenges facing communities of all sizes. In a news release, she indicated education, small business development, and job growth would be the focus of her campaign:

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