CHARLES CITY — Rhoda McCartney grew up 8 miles west of the rural Charles City home where women’s suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt lived as a girl.
“It was a curiosity spot for me,” said McCartney, now 87.
Catt, whose efforts helped lead to ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 guaranteeing women the right to vote, wasn’t included in the history books in school back then, but “you heard stories,” McCartney said.
Many years later, McCartney learned the home where Catt lived from the age of 7 to early adulthood was on the market. She led the effort to form a non-profit organization called the National 19th Amendment Society to raise money to buy it, restore it and open it to the public.
Today visitors from all over the United States and many other countries come to the Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home.
“Without Rhoda it never would have happened,” said Marilu Wohlers, one of the founding board members of the National 19th Amendment Society, which presented McCartney with its first Woman of Influence Award May 1.
McCartney called people she knew in the Charles City area who were involved in the community and interested in history to ask them to be a part of the National 19th Amendment Society.
The society purchased the house and some of the surrounding land in 1991.
The house was in such bad shape when the society bought it that Bill Wagner, the preservation architect they worked with, told them if they didn’t do something soon, by the following year “it will be a cow pasture,” McCartney said.
Dick Young was the contractor for the restoration project.
Eventually the society raised enough money to purchase the rest of the farmstead.
The home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, opened to the public in 2005. It is dedicated to telling the story of Catt, the fight for women’s right to vote, and life on the prairie during the 19th century.