first woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress,
and the only member of Congress to vote against
U.S. entry in both world wars
Jeannette Rankin was born in
Missoula, Montana, on June 11, 1880. After
attending the local schools she graduated from
the University of Montana with a degree in
biology in 1902. She spent a short time teaching
in country schools before taking an
apprenticeship as a seamstress and supported
herself by taking in sewing.
In 1908, Rankin enrolled at the
New York School of Philanthropy. She then became
a practicing social worker in Seattle,
Washington, and eventually enrolled at the
University of Washington. The women's suffrage
movement was gaining energy at this time; Rankin
joined the state organization and began to
actively campaign for the cause. She ultimately
served as legislative secretary of the National
Woman's Suffrage Association. Her efforts helped
Montana women win the right to vote in 1914.
In 1916, Rankin ran for a seat
in Congress, on a progressive Republican platform
that addressed women's issues, child-protection
laws, and prohibition, among other social issues.
Although she won the election, Rankin was
initially unsure whether she truly had political
abilities. Her fears were unfounded, however, as
she soon revealed herself to be well educated,
widely traveled, and sophisticated, and earned
the respect of many of her male colleagues.
During her term, Rankin introduced the first bill
that would have allowed women citizenship
independent of their husbands. She also supported
government-sponsored pre-natal and child-care
education for women.
An outspoken isolationist,
Rankin was one of 49 members of Congress to vote
against declaring war on Germany in 1917. This
unpopular stand cost her the Republican
nomination in 1918. After leaving Congress in
1919, she became a lobbyist and returned to
Running on an anti-war platform
in 1940, Rankin again won election to the House.
Her desire to keep the United States out of
another world war got her elected, but her vote
against declaring war on Japan after the bombing
of Pearl Harbor effectively ended her political
career. (Rankin was the only member of Congress
to vote against U.S. entry in both world wars.)
Rankin did not seek re-election
in 1942, but she did continue to campaign for
peace and social reform throughout the rest of
her life. Drawn by the "non-violent
resistance" teachings of Mohandas Gandhi,
she made several trips to India between 1946 and
1971, and she participated in demonstrations
against U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Jeannette Rankin died at her
home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, on May 18,
1973. A statue of her represents Montana in
Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.
Jeannette Rankin Foundation www.rankinfoundation.org
Jeannette Rankin Peace Center www.jrpc.org
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