Where are We Now? The Catt Center at 30

CATEGORIES: November 2022, Voices

By Karen M. Kedrowski, Catt Center director

I hope that you enjoyed reading the Voices articles submitted by Sharon Rodine, Betsy Hoffman and Dianne Bystrom throughout the year about the vision and hard work that went into the founding and growth of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics over its 30-year history. Now, as our anniversary year nears its end, it’s my turn once again to share with you some final thoughts about the Catt Center’s recent growth and where we’re headed in the next few years.

When I interviewed for the Catt Center director’s position in 2018, I pledged that, if hired, I would continue the center’s great programs and seek ways to build new initiatives. Doing so has been immensely gratifying and, I daresay successful, because of the vibrant organization I inherited from Sharon, Betsy and Dianne.

And how has the Catt Center grown? The two most visible initiatives—enhanced student voter engagement and educational initiatives focusing on women’s history—are described in Dianne’s September 2022 Voices article. However, other successes are less visible. Here’s what you might not have noticed and what’s on the horizon:

Gradually expanding Catt Prize research awards: In 2019, the Catt Center offered an additional award through the Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for Research on Women and Politics that focused on women’s political participation in commemoration of the 19th Amendment’s centennial. This prize was awarded to Jennie Sweet-Cushman, Rebecca Gill and Sondra Cosgrove for their pathbreaking study of the Nevada legislature, the first in the U.S. to have a majority of women. Similarly, in 2021, the Catt Center provided a special mention award to Nadia Brown, Christopher Clark and Anna Mahony to support their research on Black women lawmakers. Finally, the 2022 call for proposals specifies that the committee will consider research in the scholarship of teaching and learning as well as the scholarship of discovery.

As the number of Catt Prize applications each year grows, I have also expanded the pool of reviewers to more disciplines and to faculty members at additional institutions. I am grateful to those who have served.

Because of the good work of my predecessors, the Catt Prize enjoys enormous prestige in the community of scholars. Eminent gender scholars share with me—and with the world on social media—their joy and gratitude upon receiving an award. They often also mention how many times they applied before being selected.

Quiet, persistent fundraising: With the assistance and persistence of the talented staff of the university grants team and the Iowa State University Foundation, the Catt Center has raised nearly $250,000 in the last three years. This includes gifts to support intern wages, the Manatt-Phelps Lecture in Political Science, and two new Legacy of Heroines scholarships. Grants received supported the 19th Amendment Centennial kickoff and closing events, the new Equal Rights Amendment curriculum, and student voting engagement. We are grateful to all the donors and grantors for their votes of confidence in the Catt Center.

Building a civic ethos on campus: The Catt Center is working to build a civic ethos on campus by communicating to students that voting and civic engagement are campus values. The Catt Center has developed a Canvas module; shepherded a pro-voting resolution through Faculty Senate, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, and Student Government; and instructed faculty about how to promote student voting engagement without running afoul of university rules and state laws. Various campus and community groups now seek out the Catt Center for information and expertise on voting and elections.

Outreach to public school teachers: The Equal Rights Amendment curriculum; the traveling exhibit “Toward a Universal Suffrage: African American Women in Iowa and the Vote for All”; the National History Day resources on Carrie Chapman Catt; and efforts to expand the Archives of Women’s Political Communication’s reach are all part of an intentional effort to provide resources to public school teachers. Our goal is to help them infuse women’s stories and women’s voices into their curricula.

On the horizon: The Catt Center staff looks forward many more years of telling women’s stories and promoting civic engagement and women’s political participation. This includes continuing to build a civic ethos on campus through faculty, staff and student engagement. Our next Ready to Run® Iowa program is already scheduled for Spring 2023. On Feb. 7, the 2023 Mary Louise Smith Chair in Women and Politics, Sherry Boschert, will discuss the impact of Title IX fifty years after the passage of that seminal legislation. Next year, we also look forward to marking the centennial of the first proposal of the Equal Rights Amendment and celebrating the 25th anniversary of Iowa’s ERA. We will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Women Impacting ISU calendar in 2026.

At the same time, the center will continue its important work on the Gender Balance Project, the Archives of Women’s Political Communication, and the Women in Iowa Politics database. We will continue to provide high-impact learning experiences through the internship program and the Legacy of Heroines scholarship program, and by sponsoring lectures and panel discussions that address women’s leadership, public policy, and political engagement. Finally, the Catt Center will continue to encourage active citizenship through voting engagement and civic education.

The Catt Center’s past is storied and its future is bright. Here’s to the next 30 years and beyond!