Jeannette Pickering Rankin

Jeannette Pickering Rankin (June 11, 1880 – May 18, 1973)

She was the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives and the
first female member of the Congress sometimes referred to as the Lady of the House. A lifelong
pacifist, she voted against the entry of the United States into both World War I and World War II,
the only member of Congress to vote against the latter. To date, she is the only woman to be
elected to Congress from Montana.

On November 7, 1916 she was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican from
Montana, becoming the first female member of Congress. The Nineteenth Amendment (which
gave women the right to vote everywhere in the United States) was not ratified until 1920;
therefore, during Rankin's first term in Congress (1917-1919), many women throughout the
country did not have the right to vote, though they did in her home state of Montana.

Rankin attended Montana State University at Missoula and graduated in 1902 with a Bachelor of
Science degree in biology. She was a schoolteacher, seamstress and studied furniture design --
looking for some work to which she could commit herself. When her father died in 1902, he left
money to Rankin, paid out over her lifetime.

On a long trip to Boston in 1904 to visit with her brother at Harvard and with other relatives, she
was inspired by slum conditions to take up the new field of social work. She became a resident in
a San Francisco Settlement House for four months, then entered the New York School of
Philanthropy (later, to become the Columbia School of Social Work). She returned to the west to
become a social worker in Spokane, Washington, in a children's home. Social work did not,
however, hold her interest long - she only lasted a few weeks at the children's home.
Next, Rankin studied at the University of Washington in Seattle and became involved in the
woman suffrage movement in 1910. Visiting Montana, Rankin became the first woman to speak
before the Montana legislature, where she surprised the spectators and legislators alike with her
speaking ability. She organized and spoke for the Equal Franchise Society.

Rankin then moved to New York, and continued her work on behalf of women's rights. During
these years, she began her lifelong relationship with Katherine Anthony. She went to work for the
New York Woman Suffrage Party and in 1912 she became the field secretary of the National
American Woman Suffrage Association. Rankin and Anthony were among the thousands of
suffragists at the 1913 suffrage march in Washington, D.C., before the inauguration of Woodrow
Wilson.

Rankin returned to Montana to help organize the successful Montana suffrage campaign in 1914.
To do so, she gave up her position with the NAWSA.
As war in Europe loomed, Rankin turned her attention to work for peace, and in 1916, ran for one
of the two seats in Congress from Montana as a Republican. Her brother served as campaign
manager and helped finance the campaign. Jeannette Rankin won, though the papers first
reported that she lost the election -- and Jeannette Rankin thus became the first woman elected
to the U.S. Congress, and the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western
democracy.

Rankin used her fame and notoriety in this "famous first" position to work for peace and women's
rights and against child labor, and to write a weekly newspaper column.

Only four days after taking office, Jeannette Rankin made history in yet another way: she voted
against U.S. entry into World War I. She violated protocol by speaking during the roll call before
casting her vote, announcing "I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war." Some of
her colleagues in NAWSA -- notably Carrie Chapman Catt -- criticized her vote as opening the
suffrage cause to criticism as impractical and sentimental.

Rankin did vote, later in her term, for several pro-war measures, as well as working for the
political reforms including civil liberties, suffrage, birth control, equal pay and child welfare. In
1917, she opened the congressional debate on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which passed
the House in 1917 and the Senate in 1918, to become the 19th Amendment after it was ratified
by the states.

But Rankin's first anti-war vote sealed her political fate. When she was gerrymandered out of her
district, she ran for the Senate, lost the primary, launched a third party race, and lost
overwhelmingly.
 
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"If the people fail to vote, a government will be developed
which is not their government. The whole system of
American Government rests on the ballot box. Unless
citizens perform their duties there, such a system of
government is doomed to failure."
Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the USA.
 
 
 
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