Since March is Women’s Appreciation Month, I decided to highlight one of the first woman to be elected to the United States Congress and the first woman elected to a high government office: Jeannette Rankin.
Rankin was born June 11, 1880 near Missoula, Montana to humble beginnings. She was the oldest of six, her mother was a teacher and her father a rancher. Early on, she noticed that women did not have the right to vote and she thought this was very wrong.
As a young woman, she did a great deal of traveling and, while in New York, helped form the pro-Suffrage New York Women’s Suffrage Party and worked as a lobbyist for National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She was part of the movement that made New York a Suffrage state.
In February 1911, she addressed the Montana State Legislature for the case of suffrage, the first woman to ever do so.
Her first congressional campaign began in her home state of Montana in 1916. Her brother, Wellington, helped organize her campaign where she ran as a Republican. She ran on the case for Suffrage and as a pacifist. Though she won by less than 10,000 votes, she became the first women member of Congress.
Though she voted against the United States entering World War I, touting her pacifism, she was most known for being the driving force in the House of Representatives for getting the 19th Amendment passed. When it was ratified, giving women the right to vote, she later noted that she was “the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”
She became the victim of gerrymandering by the Montana state legislature and found herself in a very Democrat district. She decided to run for the Senate, but ultimately lost the nomination. She choose to become a farmer, but remained active in pacifist causes.
Rankin would return to the House of Representatives in 1940, however, her opposition to entry to World War II effectively destroyed her political career. She retired in 1942.
Though she did not run for Congress again, she continued to champion women’s rights, pacifism, and openly opposed the Vietnam War.
She passed away in Carmel, California on May 18, 1973. Though her legacy was highjacked by her pacifism, she told the Montana Constitutional Convention in 1972, “If I am remembered for no other act, I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”