Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers

Women in History: Jeannette Rankin

on July 31, 2011

Let me introduce you to another woman. Jeannette Rankin. It’s a name I had never heard before a few days ago.

She

  • lived from 1880 – 1973.
  • graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology.
  • was the first woman to speak in front of Montana’s legislature.
  • was the first woman in U.S. Congress.
  • was the first woman elected in a Western democracy to a national government body.
  • was a Republican
  • represented Montana – twice (once from 1917-1919, then again from 1941-1943).
  • lobbied Congress in between her two terms.
  • ran as an independent once in between to prove that she wasn’t being bribed to step down, even though she knew she would lose.
  • is the only woman to have ever represented Montana in Congress.
  • was a pacifist.
  • voted against entering both World War I, living out her pacifist beliefs.
  • was hated by the press for these votes and it lost her some support.
  • still supported the war effort anyway through Liberty Bonds.
  • was the only Congress member voting against entering World War II.
  • needed a police escort after that vote.
  • killed her own political career by standing so firm to her pacifist beliefs, but she stood her ground.
  • opposed the Korean War.
  • opposed the Vietnam War and let a march of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade on Washington to this effect.
  • almost ran again to work against the Vietnam War, but died before she had the chance.
  • introduced a bill to give women their own citizenship, apart from their husbands.
  • helped to get a Committee on Woman Suffrage started in Congress and was then made a part of it.
  • worked as a school teacher for a little while.
  • entered social work after she saw how people lived in the slums of Boston.
  • argued that by not allowing women to vote that they were being taxed without representation (sound familiar?).
  • wrote a weekly newspaper column.
  • worked, at one point, for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
  • was involved in the passage of women’s suffrage in Montana.
  • was elected before the 19th amendment passed.
  • attempted to get funding for health clinics, midwife education (awesome!), and visiting nurse programs.
  • wanted to reduce infant mortality, reduce maternal mortality, see prohibition enacted, and end child labor.
  • campaigned for and helped to get the following bills passed the Child Labour Amendment, Independent Citizenship, and the Maternity and Infancy Protection Act.
  • was the first person who introduced the GI Bill.
  • was a founding member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
  • was accused of being a communist.
  • founded the Georgia Peace Society.
  • travelled to India seven times.
  • subscribed to Ghandi’s philosophy of non-violence.
  • was awarded the The World’s Outstanding Living Feminist.
  • formed the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, a non-profit that gives scholarships to low-income women to further their education, with the money from her property after her death.
  • has a statue in the United State’s Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Others’ remarks

She said

I knew that we were asked to vote for a commercial war, that none of the idealistic hopes would be carried out, and I was aware of the falseness of much of the propaganda. It was easy to stand against the pressure of the militarists, but very difficult to go against the friends and dear ones who felt that I was making a needless sacrifice by voting against the war, since my vote would not be a decisive one…. I said I would listen to those who wanted war and would not vote until the last opportunity and if I could see any reason for going to war I would change it. (Gale – Free Resources – Women’s History – Biographies – Jeannette Rankin)

The peace problem is a woman’s problem. Disarmament will not be won without their aid. So long as they shirk…something will be radically wanting in the peace activities of the public and the state…I am aware that men are disposed to look down on the temperamental pacifism of women (which in spite of all the exceptions is a psychological fact) as something that the manly man would scorn to imitate. However, there is no other way that I can see in which peace can be realized except through forbearance from fighting on the part of men as well as women…Therefore peace is a woman’s job. (Peace is a Woman’s Job: Who Was Jeanette Rankin, History and Bio)

American mothers’ sons have died on foreign battlefields to support profiteers in their luxury living. All the businesses that engage in war profiteering should be made to pay each employee, owner, director, trustee or what have you, the minimum soldier’s wage. And everyone should be given a tin cup and a bread card and subsist on the same food the soldier does. The same goes for the President and all the representatives in Congress, and they should also be given the honor of carrying the flag in battle so they can feel they’re doing their bit. (Jeannette Rankin, Suffragist and Pacifist: She Speaks for Me by Jeanmarie Simpson)

Books about her (Note, I haven’t read any of these, these are just some of the books I’ve found):

You can learn more about the Jeannette Rankin Foundation and the scholarships they offer at this website.

If you believe in peace and want to continue to work, the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center was founded in her honor and memory.

The United States Institute for Peace also has a Jeannette Rankin Library Program.

I think what she did is very important because without her, it’s likely that many of the elected women we see today would not be in office. As it is, Congress doesn’t have enough women, but they had to start somewhere. I think Jeannette did a fine job for being the first.

Sources:

P.S. if you read this and like this, won’t you please be my fan on Facebook?

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