Jeannette Rankin was an American politician and women’s rights advocate and, the first woman to hold federal office in the United States. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana in 1916 and, again, in 1940. As of 2022, Rankin is still the only woman ever elected to Congress from Montana.
Each of Rankin’s Congressional terms coincided with initiation of U.S. military intervention in the two World Wars. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of 50 House members who opposed the declaration of war on Germany in 1917. In 1941, she was the only member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A suffragist during the Progressive Era, Rankin organized and lobbied for legislation enfranchising women in several states including Montana, New York and North Dakota. While in Congress, she introduced legislation that eventually became the 19th Constitutional Amendment, granting unrestricted voting rights to women nationwide. She championed a multitude of diverse women’s rights and civil rights causes throughout a career that spanned more than six decades.
Rankin was born on June 11, 1880, to John and Olive Rankin at Grant Creek Ranch near Missoula, in what was then the Montana Territory. She was the first of seven children […] in a prosperous family. Her father […] was a rancher and builder who had come to Montana from Canada. Her mother […] had moved from New Hampshire to teach before marrying John Rankin and becoming a housewife. Jeannette attended Montana State University in Missoula (now the University of Montana) and graduated in 1902 with a degree in biology. [Her] career in politics began as a student volunteer with a local women’s suffrage campaign in Washington State, preparing for a referendum on voting rights. [In] February 1911, she became the first woman to address the Montana legislature when she testified in support of women’s suffrage.
History, Art & Archives
United States House of Representatives
Rankin held office in her first term from March 4, 1917, one-hundred and five years, ago, today, to March 3, 1919. Her second term was from January 3, 1941 to January 3, 1943. Powerful enemies made sure she could not get re-elected. Twenty-four years later, she reclaimed her seat. She never married and passed away May 18, 1973 at the age of 92. ~Vic
Jeannette Rankin (Biography/February 27, 2018)
Montana’s Women Candidates Are Out To Set Another Record (Billings Gazette/Web Archive/October 25, 2016)
Seven Things About Jeannette Rankin (History Channel/Jesse Greenspan/September 1, 2018)
One hundred and two years ago, today, a group of women, organized by Women’s Rights Activist Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party (NWP), began a picketing and protest campaign in front of the White House during the Wilson Presidency. Known as the Silent Sentinels, the protest began after a meeting with the President regarding suffrage proved fruitless with Wilson stating to the women to “…concert public opinion on behalf of women’s suffrage.” The silent protest was a new strategy for the National Suffrage Movement and served as a constant reminder of Wilson’s lack of support.
Originally founded as the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CUWS) after the 1913 woman suffrage parade, they broke away from the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), a more moderate group. CUWS only lasted three years and morphed into the NWP. The Suffragist was their weekly newsletter, containing essays, progress reports and notes on the President’s continuing indifference.
There were differing public reactions. Some approved, assisting with holding banners, bringing beverages and donating money. Some opposed their actions, including the leader of the NAWSA, Carrie Chapman Catt, whom preferred political tactics via individual states instead of a national amendment. She feared a male voter backlash.
Anti-suffragist mobs could be violent (worsening after the US entered World War I) spurred by the more insulting banners that compared Wilson to Kaiser Wilhelm. The New York Times called the protests “…silly, silent and offensive.” Massachusetts Representative Joseph Walsh referred to them as “…bewildered, deluded creatures with short skirts and short hair…” and “…nagging, iron-jawed angels.”
They were harassed, arrested, tortured and abused. Hunger strikes were met with forced feeding. On the night of November 14, 1917, known as the “Night of Terror“, the superintendent of the Occoquan Workhouse (prison), W.H. Whittaker, ordered the nearly forty guards to brutalize the suffragists. The treatment stories angered many Americans, creating more support. The protesters were finally released November 27 & 28, 1917, Alice Paul having spent five weeks there.
President Wilson finally announced his amendment support on January 8, 1918. The House barely passed the amendment the next day but, the Senate waited until October to vote. It failed by two votes. Protester arrests resumed August 6, 1918 and, by December, protestors were starting fires and burning Wilson effigies in front of the White House. Alice Paul encouraged people to vote against anti-suffrage Senators during the 1918 elections. The House, again, passed the amendment on May 21, 1919 and the Senate followed June 4 ending the six-day-a-week protest. The Nineteenth Amendment was adopted August 18, 1920.
See Iron Jawed Angels film.