In December 1915, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw announced that she was resigning as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Association turned to Carrie as the obvious choice to take over as president. Carrie was reluctant. She had just committed herself to lead the campaign in New York for the next two years. But there was no one else who was nearly as well qualified to lead the national organization.
Carrie remembered the disappointment she had suffered back in 1900, when the board had blocked her plans for running the organization. She insisted that she would not become president unless she could select all the members of the board. This time there would be no doubts about who was in charge of the Association, and Carrie would be free to run it as she thought best. The members of the organization agreed to Carrie’s conditions. At the age of 55, Carrie again became president of NAWSA. She found it necessary to replace almost every member of the board. She wanted to be sure that the Association was ready for a final effort that would lead to victory.
It would take more than new officers to turn the Association around. The old “National” needed a new spirit and new ways of working. In her speech to the convention, Carrie told the members:
We who have come down from the last generation are reformers; but reformers are poor politicians… . Let us put out of our lives all the nonessentials, and devote ourselves first of all to this great cause. … Let us work harder this year than ever we have before. Let us make our slogan, ‘Get together!’
Hard work and unity would be the keys to success.
Carrie immediately began to travel around the country, meeting with suffragists and getting reacquainted with the national organization. She also started planning a campaign that would try for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so that women would have equal voting rights in all of the states where they had not yet been successful.
Carrie decided to put pressure on both the Republican and Democratic parties to declare support for woman suffrage. 1916 was a presidential election year, and the presidential nominating conventions would be good opportunities for the suffragists to make their point.
During the Republican convention in Chicago, the suffragists staged a large parade in spite of terrible rain and wind. In Saint Louis, Missouri at the Democratic convention, suffragists in white dresses with yellow sashes lined the street from the delegates’ hotel to the convention hall. The delegates could not forget that the suffrage forces were demanding their support.
Neither convention announced strong support for woman suffrage, but both were concerned enough about the growing strength of the suffrage movement that they felt they should at least give the appearance of being in favor. Shortly after the conventions Charles Evans Hughes, who was the Republican presidential candidate, announced that he personally supported a federal suffrage amendment.
In September 1916, Carrie called NAWSA to Atlantic City, New Jersey for an emergency convention. She announced that the time had come for the Association to push for an amendment to the United States Constitution to give women equal voting rights throughout the country. The state-by-state campaigns had been making some progress, but it would take many years for all American women to get the right to vote, unless the suffrage movement changed its approach.
If all of the local branches of the Association worked together, they could win a final victory in just a few years. It would be a difficult fight, because a constitutional amendment had to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Congress, and then also approved by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states.
Carrie presented a detailed plan for a campaign that would convince the Congress to vote for the amendment and then would move into the states to get the necessary votes from the state legislatures. She insisted that the state suffrage organizations would have to work harder than ever before, even in the states where women already had voting rights. There were then 48 states in the U.S., so that approval from 36 state legislatures would be needed. Carrie expected that most of the southern states would not support the amendment, and the suffragists would need to win approval from almost every state outside of the South. If the campaign failed in only one or two states outside of the South, the whole plan would probably fail.
Some of the state suffrage organizations wanted to keep working within their states to change the state constitutions in order to win voting rights state-by-state. Carrie said that would be all right, but they also had to work for the federal amendment. Most of the state organizations agreed.
The campaign for the federal amendment would need a lot of money. Carrie called for the state organizations to raise $1,000,000. The convention immediately pledged to raise most of the money, and it was clear that the rest of the money would be contributed soon.
Carrie invited President Wilson to speak at the convention. He told the suffrage workers that he was on their side, but he did not definitely promise to work for the federal amendment. The suffragists knew that President Wilson, as the head of the Democratic Party, had to be careful not to offend southern Democrats. The southerners were a very important part of the Party and did not favor woman suffrage.
In November 1916, President Wilson was re-elected. It was a close election. Many people believed that votes from women in the western states had helped Wilson to win. This increased support for woman suffrage in the Democratic Party.