Carrie Chapman Catt — Juniper Ledge


So, here’s another of those mysterious driveway pillars that I pass by all the time.  This one’s on North State Road, just about opposite the ASPCA.  (This only qualifies for Ossining History on the Run because I pass by it whenever I drive to the gym to run on the treadmill.  That counts, doesn’t it?)  But “Juniper Ledge” has an intriguing, slightly dangerous ring to it, doesn’t it? Yet it’s taken me years to get around to Googling it and now that I have, I’ve fallen down an Internet hole that leads past the League of Women Voters, Prohibition, the Nineteenth Amendment, and Seneca Falls.   Juniper Ledge, you see, was the country home of one of our most dedicated suffragettes, Carrie Chapman Catt.

Hmm, wait, now who exactly was she? She’s up there with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, right? Ladies whose names get trotted out every March, during Women’s History Month, important historical figures I know I should know but . . . don’t. (As the alumna of a Seven Sisters school, it’s pretty embarrassing for me to admit that I am not at all conversant with the history of those who led the fight for women’s suffrage and rights.)

But now, thanks to this simple driveway pillar, I know all that there is to know about the early feminists and the fight for women’s rights. Okay, no, not true, but I certainly know more than I did.

(As a side note, isn’t it hard to believe that American women have only been allowed to vote for less than one hundred years?   But it’s true – the Nineteenth Amendment wasn’t passed until 1920.)

But I digress. Back to Juniper Ledge (also sometimes called “The Catt House,” which makes me giggle.)

Carrie Chapman Catt (nee Lane) was born in Wisconsin in 1859. Unusually for that time and place, she went to college (Iowa State) and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 1880. She became a teacher, then a principal, then Superintendent of her Iowa school district. Pretty groundbreaking stuff for the Gilded Age, when women were just supposed to wear bustles and corsets, get married and have babies.

She did marry, though, twice. In 1880, she married husband #1, Leo Chapman, a reporter, who died of typhoid fever within a couple of years. In 1885, she married husband #2,  George Catt, a wealthy engineer and fellow Iowa State alum. He apparently was quite supportive of her involvement in the fight for women’s rights. So she threw herself into the fray.

Based in Iowa, she led the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Association from 1890 – 1892, then started – wait, I’m sorry, I’m dragging you down this hole too. You probably just want to hear about Juniper Ledge on North State Road, right?

Okay, so Juniper Ledge is listed on the National Historical Register because of Catt’s residence, but she really only lived there from 1919 – 1928. With her partner Mary Garret Hay (Mr. Catt having died in 1905.)

The story goes that the estate was named Juniper Ledge because of its abundance of juniper trees (not sure if Catt named it so.)  And, as we all know, juniper berries are the main ingredient in gin.   In a New York Times article from 1921, she asserted that she bought Juniper Ledge to keep the juniper berries from “wet” use. (She and Hay served their guests coffee and orangeade.)

(I suppose I should mention that many of the suffragettes were also big on Prohibition.  We won’t hold that against them, though.  Things were different then. Did you know that Ossining had about 50 active saloons at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s true. Dana White, the Ossining Village Historian told me so. So yeah, maybe there was a good reason for the anti-booze crusade.)

Anyway, while still living in Iowa, Catt came to the attention of Susan B. Anthony, the Grande Dame of suffragettes (so grande that she was awarded with her own US coin! Only minted for about three years though, due to its poor design and the opposition of Big Vending, but I am getting way off topic here.)

Long story short, Catt succeeded Susan B. Anthony as President of the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1900, and was its President when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. Catt then started the League of Women Voters to supply women with information to help them make informed voting decisions.

According to another New York Times article, this one from 1927, Juniper Ledge was quite impressive: “The estate is one of the show places of Northern Westchester, and includes sixteen acres of extensively developed land fronting on two roads. The residence, on a knoll overlooking the countryside, is a modern house of English architecture containing fourteen rooms and three baths. A gardener’s cottage, stables, a garage and a greenhouse are also on the property.”  Catt affixed brass plaques with the names of famous suffragettes to fourteen trees – and some of those plaques are now in the archives at Harvard.

Catt sold Juniper Ledge in 1927 to a “Manhattan banker” (according to the NYT) and purchased a home at 120 Paine Avenue in New Rochelle. Sadly, her companion Mary Garret Hay died shortly after they moved. (Here’s Hay’s obituary.)

Catt lived on, staying active right up until her death in 1947. She and Hay are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. The inscription on their joint tombstone reads, “Here lie two, united in friendship for thirty-eight years through constant service to a great cause.” (Here’s Catt’s obituary.  It makes me tired just to read about all the things she accomplished.)

So, the next time you drive on North State Road, keep an eye out for that old driveway pillar and know that a very influential and historical woman once lived up there.







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