Carrie Chapman Catt's Girlhood Home

A classic example of Victorian-era architecture and utilitarian design, the Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home is located about three miles southeast of Charles City, Iowa, a farming and manufacturing community of 8,000 midway between Minneapolis and Des Moines. The home today is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and has been restored at the direction of the National 19th Amendment Society, a volunteer, non-profit organization based in Charles City.

In 1865 and 1866, Lucius Lane - Carrie's father - constructed the first section of the home prior to his family's arrival from Ripon, Wisconsin. Seven-year-old Carrie, her nine-year-old brother Charles, and their mother Maria Clinton Lane lived in another house in town during construction, and moved into the modest but handsome home in 1866. Later additions, completed by about 1875, give the home its appearance today. Lucius Lane, seeking to accommodate his family on the rugged prairie frontier, built the brick structure with enclosed, hollow exterior walls to provide efficient insulation for heating and cooling during each of Iowa's four robust seasons.

Sketch of Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home by John Guthart.
Artist: John Guthart

During the next 11 years, Carrie lived with her family at the farm. In 1877, she graduated from Charles City High School and enrolled at the state's agricultural and science college in Ames. Carrie's ties to the home remained strong, however, as she continued to visit her family. In 1885, at age 26, Carrie married Leo Chapman in a wedding ceremony in the Lane home's living room (the east addition). Six years later, in 1891, the Lane family sold the property and moved into a house on Ferguson Street in Charles City. That house also remains at its original location today.

As an adult, Carrie fondly recalled her childhood and young adult years at what was known as Spring Brook Farm. She often spent afternoons on the bough of a large oak tree nearby, reading books. Horseback riding gave the independent girl a new measure of freedom. The farm was also the setting for an early lesson in American civics when, at age 13, she openly questioned why her mother was not voting in the 1872 presidential election, like her father and his hired man. Her sincere question was greeted with laughter. Voting, she was told, was too important a civic duty to leave to women. As an adult, Mrs. Catt recalled that day as a turning point in her life.

Perhaps the last time Carrie Chapman Catt visited the farm was in 1907, shortly following the death of her second husband, George Catt. She returned to Charles City that year to accompany her mother and younger brother, both in declining health. In September her brother William died at age 36; less than three months later, on December 3, her mother died following a lengthy illness.

Front porch view at sunrise.
Front porch view at sunrise

By 1991, the eight-room Victorian-era farm house had fallen into serious disrepair. A century after the Lane family sold Spring Brook Farm, the home was sold to the non-profit National 19th Amendment Society. Preservation architect Bill Wagner and building contractor Dick Young supervised the restoration. Wagner earlier supervised such projects as the National Park Service's Herbert Hoover birthplace in West Branch, Iowa; the Mamie Doud Eisenhower birthplace in Boone, Iowa; and Terrace Hill, the Iowa governor's mansion in Des Moines. Young has restored numerous historic properties in Charles City and northern Iowa.

The home is open to the public from Memorial Day to Labor Day (late May to early September), 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sunday. It is also open by appointment.

 Carrie Chapman Catt: A Biography
 Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home
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