Let me introduce you to another woman. Jeannette Rankin. It’s a name I had never heard before a few days ago.
- 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.
- about her being sworn in: It was said she looked like “a mature bride rather than a strong-minded female … when her name was called the House cheered and rose, so that she had to rise and bow twice, which she did with entire self-possession.” – An Observer (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- about her voting against going into war: One newspaper called her “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl.” -The Helena Independent (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- about her voting against going into war: The suffrage movement, because they wanted to separate themselves from her negative press, said, “Miss Rankin was not voting for the suffragists of the nation—she represents Montana.” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- about her voting against going into WWII: Her brother said, “Montana is 100 percent against you.” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- “She remains one of the most controversial and unique women in Montana and American political history.” – Dr. Joan Hoff (Peace is a Woman’s Job: Who Was Jeanette Rankin, History and Bio)
- about her no vote for entering the war: “Probably a hundred men in Congress would have liked to do what she did. Not one of them had the courage to do it.” – William Allen White (Jeannette Rankin Biography)
- “It was much more radical to be a peace activist during the era that she was — which was her whole life — than to be a suffragette.” – Gretchen Woelfle (The First Woman In Congress: A Crusader for Peace: NPR)
- “Just a remarkable career. Whether you agreed with her or not, she stuck to her guns.” – Matt Wasniewski (The First Woman In Congress: A Crusader for Peace: NPR)
- “As a woman, I can’t go to war and I refuse to send anyone else.” (Wikipedia)
- “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.” (About.com Women’s History)
- “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- “I knew the women would stand behind me. I am deeply conscious of the responsibility. I will not only represent the women of Montana, but also the women of the country, and I have plenty of work cut out for me.” (Ex-Rep. Jeannette Rankin Dies; First Woman in Congress, 92)
- “How shall we answer the challenge, gentlemen? How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- upon being elected the second time, “No one will pay any attention to me this time. There is nothing unusual about a woman being elected.” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- upon voting against entering World War II, “I voted my convictions and redeemed my campaign pledges.” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- “I have nothing left but my integrity.” (Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana)
- “Men in the West had experienced pioneer ways and pioneer conditions and so they gave women the vote and then women decided to use the ballot to improve things, don’t you know.” (Peace is a Woman’s Job: Who Was Jeanette Rankin, History and Bio)
- “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” (Jeanette Rankin Quotes)
- “Men and women are like right and left hands; it doesn’t make sense not to use both.” (The First U.S. Congresswoman: Jeannette Rankin)
- “We’re half the people; we should be half the Congress.” (The First U.S. Congresswoman: Jeannette Rankin)
- upon her treatment after casting no votes for war. “I’d go through much worse treatment. If you know a certain thing is right, you can’t change it.” (Ex-Rep. Jeannette Rankin Dies; First Woman in Congress, 92)
- “Prepare to the limit for defense; keep our men out of Europe.” – Her campaign slogan before her second term. (Ex-Rep. Jeannette Rankin Dies; First Woman in Congress, 92)
- “The people really aren’t for war. They just go along, but war is evil, and there is always an alternative.” (Ex-Rep. Jeannette Rankin Dies; First Woman in Congress, 92)
- “The first time the first woman had a chance to say no against war she should say it.” (JRPC – Who was Jeannette Rankin?)
- “Killing more people won’t help matters.” (Jeannette Rankin Quotes)
- “There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense; for war is the slaughter of human beings, temporarily regarded as enemies, on as large a scale as possible.” (Jeannette Rankin Quotes)
- “What one decides to do in crisis depends on one’s philosophy of life, and that philosophy cannot be changed by an incident. If one hasn’t any philosophy in crises, others make the decision.” (Jeannette Rankin Quotes)
- “War is a stupid and futile way of attempting to settle international difficulties. It can and will be avoided when the people have the controlling voice in their government. Today special, privileged, commercial interests control the world.” (Jeannette Rankin, Suffragist and Pacifist: She Speaks for Me by Jeanmarie Simpson)
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.
- About.com Women’s History
- Jeannette Rankin
- Women in Congress – Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana
- Peace is a Woman’s Job: Who Was Jeanette Rankin, History and Bio
- Jeannette Rankin assumes office – History.com This Day in History – 4/2/1917
- The First U.S. Congresswoman: Jeannette Rankin
- JRPC – Who was Jeannette Rankin?
- NAPF Youth Outreach: Peace Heroes: Jeannette Rankin
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