A Woman in the House

Jeannette Rankin was born in Montana in 1880, five years before Montana became a state. She was the oldest of six children to a wealthy mill owner and school teacher. She became a ranch hand and caregiver to her younger siblings. She graduated from the University of Montana.

After college, she took an interest in social work and worked in San Francisco and Spokane. She then became involved in the woman’s suffrage movement and helped the state of Washington become the fifth state to give women the right to vote. She then worked on women’s suffrage in other states before returning to Montana to lead the women’s suffrage movement in her home state.

Jeannette ran for one of Montana’s two at-large House of Representative seats as a Republican. She came in second, winning one of the two seats. She ran as a progressive candidate supporting suffrage, social progress, and the prohibition of alcohol. She was also a strong pacifist. She was one of 50 House members to vote against entering World War I.

While in the House, Jeannette continued to fight for women’s rights to vote and work conditions. She had developed opposition from those who were against her progressive reforms. Montana’s legislation decided to move from open seats to designated Congressional districts. She was placed in a heavily Democratic district. She decided to run for the Senate but lost in the primary.

After losing the election, she continued to fight for progressive causes. She also opposed the entry of the U.S. into World War II. After 20 years of lobbying for causes dear to her, she grew frustrated with what she was able to accomplish. She decided to run for the House again.

She won a second term and created a stir when she was the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan. Her political career was effectively over.

After her term of office was over, she continued to fight for progressive causes. She became an icon for pacifists, civil rights activists, and feminists through the end of her life. She passed away at the age of 92.

Hidden heroes often go unnoticed even though they were very visible at the time. How many people could name the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives? Very few. Why don’t we recognize these pioneers? Not only did Jeannette Rankin achieve an important first, but her fight for individual rights should give her more recognition. Was her act of consciousness in voting against our entry into World Wars I and II the reason we don’t honor her other achievements?

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            “I may be the first women member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”– Jeannette Rankin

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