“We ought to know that you cannot settle a dispute by violence.”
Jeannette Rankin was born in Missoula, Montana 11 June, 1880. She served as the first woman in the House of Representatives in the 65th session of Congress from 1917 – 1919. She said that she was the first woman to be elected, but she would not be last. Women had had the right to vote in the state of Montana since 1914, but a constitutional amendment giving all women the right to vote was not ratified until 18 August, 1920. She was welcomed by her fellow congressmen by cheers and had to bow in acceptance twice.
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During her first term in congress, she, along with forty nine of her fellow congressman, voted “No” against the United States involvement in World War I. Commenting on her vote, she said, “As a woman I cannot go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”
In January 1918, she opened the House Floor debate on a constitutional amendment on woman’s suffrage, the very first of such debates. Many representatives who shared her vote defended her, including Fiorello La Guardia, Representative from New York. In an effort to distance themselves from Miss Rankin’s views, the National American Woman Suffrage Association wrote, “Miss Rankin was not voting for the suffragists of the nation – she represented Montana.”
As was the pattern of her life, Miss Rankin spoke for miner’s rights, social welfare programs, and peace.
Miss Rankin was narrowly defeated in the following election, but when war presented itself on the world stage in 1939, she submitted her bid for re-election and won. Her purpose in this term was to speak against the United States in World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she immediately returned to Washington D.C. to cast her vote against war. She was not given the floor to speak against President Roosevelt’s request to fight back. She was also encouraged to abstain from the vote. But, when the roll was called, she declared, “No.” This time, she stood alone, the resolution passed 388-1. The response was immediate. She was driven from the House of Representatives amidst hisses and boos, and had to run from the building. Finding shelter in a phone booth, she waited until the police arrived to escort her back to her office.
Miss Rankin was ignored for the remainder of her term.
15 Jan 1968, Washington, DC, USA — A group of women belonging to the Jeanette Rankin Brigade march in protest of the Vietnam War. Jeanette Rankin, the first female congress member, stands holding the banner at center (wearing eyeglasses). — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Jeannette Rankin worked as a seamstress and a teacher after her service in government. She also stayed active in politics. She was impressed with Mahatma Gandhi’s adherence to nonviolent protests and had made several trips to India even though she lived on a minimal income.
When war, again, raged at the United States door, she formed the Jeannette Rankin Brigade. In 1968, she and 5000 protested marched in Washington D.C. against the war in Vietnam.
At age 92, she was considering running for Congress again to put an end to the conflict, but she passed away 18 May 1973 in Carmel, California.
Jeannette Rankin’s life was one of consistency. She said, “What one decides to do in a crisis depends on one’s philosophy of life, and that philosophy cannot be changed by an incident.”
Every state is allowed two statues to be placed in Washington D.C. to memorialize what is valued most by each state. Montana chose Charles Russell and, appropriately, Jeannette Rankin, who embodied the spirit of Montana in her perseverance in standing, even alone, for her convictions.
All images are courtesy of the following websites:
Dissenting Vote, barrybradford.com
Rankin Statue, aoc.gov
Rankin Brigade, corbisimages.com
Miss Jeannette Rankin, moralheroes.org
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