icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Nikki Haley, the UN, and more

Nikki Haley’s surprise resignation as ambassador to the United Nations seems not to have attracted the media attention it merits, especially as she is the only major player in the Trump administration to call it quits so soon before the midterm elections. Reporters apparently accepted her excuse that she was tired after (almost) two years there and six years as governor of South Carolina. I think that is patently false – and if true, a complete insult to women who work year in and year out without falling to fatigue. Imagine the ridicule if Hillary had said that!

Timing is key here. Others intend to leave the administration after the November elections, but she announced her departure in early October – and only a few days after she sat in the UN’s General Assembly and heard her international colleagues laugh aloud at Trump’s boorish boasting. Some now are speculating that it was she who wrote the anonymous New York Times editorial assuring the world that there are a few group-ups with White House titles who try to corral the behavior of Tantrum-in-Chief. It makes sense to me. She’s in New York and could do this more easily than someone who is just steps away from the Oval Office.

But mainly, I think, she is an intelligent women of Asian heritage who may have just had it with his insults to women and immigrants. It must have been terribly embarrassing to sit there while everyone laughed at her boss – and to see him nonplused by that, as if he couldn’t believe his ears. It was very clear that he never really listens to her or anyone else when they try to indicate to him that the world sees him as vulgar, ignorant, and dangerously arrogant. I think she simply didn’t want to make any more arguments on his behalf. She wanted to draw a line between Republican governors such as herself and those in the mold of Alaska’s Sarah Palin and Oklahoma’s Mary Fallon. She did so just in time to save herself from the unpopularity that has befallen these Tea Party women. It will be very interesting to see what Nikki Haley does next.

National History Day, and
A National Hero Who Should Be Better Known

In addition to thinking about Nikki Haley, I had the UN on my mind because of a question from middle-school kids in Missouri. Every year, students will read one of my books, find me on the internet, and contact me about National History Day. They write reports, create exhibits, and even make videos, and their projects are judged at the local, state, and national level. The best kids get to spend a week in June at College Park, Maryland, just outside of DC, and most get scholarships because of their participation. The theme this year is “Triumph and Tragedy in History,” something broad enough to drive a truck through.

For whatever reason, these Missouri kids decided that it was applicable to Carrie Chapman Catt, a native of neighboring Iowa. Catt did have some tragedy in her life, including the loss of two husbands. The first question the kids asked was how I thought the death of the first one, Leo Chapman, had affected her. (I was very pleased, by the way, to see that these eighth-graders understand the difference between “affect” and “effect.”) Not much, I had to reply, except that the two of them had decided to move from Iowa to California; they traveled separately, and she arrived in San Francisco to find him dead of typhoid.

She already was accustomed to making her own living, though, as she was appointed superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa, in 1882 – perhaps the highest such position for a woman in any public school system at the time. She gave it up to marry, as it would be many more decades before married women could expect to keep their jobs in education. A 27-year-old widow, she worked as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco until returning to the East to resume an old relationship – and to increase her feminist activism. When she married George Catt, he signed a notarized agreement that she would be free four months of the year to travel and work for women’s right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony chose Catt as her successor, but she resigned the presidency of the mainstream organization when her husband became ill in 1904. After his death, she continued traveling and advocating for women, including a world tour in 1911-13 and the presidency of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. With conventions in London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, and Budapest, that organization won voting rights for women in several European nations and Australia before we won here. And the American victory – although often credited to Alice Paul and her “Iron-Jawed Angels” – was, in my view, almost entirely due to Catt’s political sagacity. She knew how to count the votes in Congress, which requires a real ability to see through doubletalk and to resist wishful thinking -- even more then than now, when many (probably most) politicians thought that they needn’t pay attention to vote-less women.

Catt foresaw the importance of the 1918 mid-term elections, exactly one hundred years ago. She targeted four senators for defeat, and won two of those four elections. It was enough to give the 2/3 margin in the Senate that the Constitution requires for constitutional amendments -- but Senate President Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts was an obdurate opponent, and much like Mitch McConnell today, he prevented the Senate from voting until the following June. He thought that would derail the women, as most state legislatures had adjourned by June. Some met only biannually back then, and Lodge was sure that Catt couldn’t hold her troops together long enough to secure the ¾ of states needed for ratification. She did, and her political genius should be much more recognized than it is.

While Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican, was opposing the ratification of the 19th Amendment that granted women the vote, he also was opposing Senate ratification of the treaty to end World War I. Proposed by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, the treaty included a League of Nations to be based in Switzerland and used as a forum for diplomatic disagreements. Wilson died of a stroke after campaigning for the League, and the Republican administrations that followed in the 1920s followed Lodge’s isolationism. It wasn’t until after World War II taught the world its tragic lessons that most Americans began to see the wisdom of international institutions, and under Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, the US offered to host the UN here, first in San Francisco and then New York.

Carrie Chapman Catt still was alive. After winning the vote, she turned her life interest from feminism to peace. When it was clear that the US would not join the League of Nations, she formed a group in 1925 called the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War. When the second war came, she assisted Jewish refugees and pushed for the establishment of the UN. That was in 1945, and she died at age 88 in 1947. I’m particularly glad that the Missouri students included a question on her role for peace, and I hope Carrie Chapman Catt is resting in peace.

Coupla Quick Thoughts

• Saudi Arabia, again. With his penchant for trusting the most ruthless dictators, President Trump believes the Saudi government had nothing to do with the disappearance of a journalist from its embassy in Turkey. The guy just went in – with his girlfriend waiting on the street for him to obtain the document they needed to wed – and then what? He never came out; no one has seen him since; and our credulous leader says maybe some “rogue killers” got him. Inside a strongly guarded embassy? Yes, he sells bridges, too.

• And while we are at it, please remind yourself of the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9-11 were from Saudi Arabia. You thought maybe Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan or Yemen or one of those other strange places that sponsor terrorists, didn’t you? The fact of this large Saudi presence was obscured from the beginning because, of course, our petroleum companies wanted their oilfields. Due to President Obama’s leadership, we no longer are so dependent on Saudi oil – but now President Trump tells us that we need to keep good relations with this dictatorship because they buy a lot of weapons from us. Sure, that makes great sense.

• Finally, I was surprised to read that Mississippi not only holds off-year elections for state offices, but it also requires that a gubernatorial candidate win not just the majority of the popular vote but also a majority of its 122 House districts. If no one does, the House decides who will be governor. House districts, of course, have been drawn by Republicans to pack black people together in fewer districts and thereby diminish the power of their vote. So, just like the national popular vote in 2000 and 2016, with Bush/Gore and Trump/Clinton, Mississippi’s 2019 deck is stacked so that even if Republicans lose, they still win.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
Make a comment to the author