#82: Jeannette Rankin

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jeannette rankinJeannette Rankin is one of the women on this list that a lot of people have already heard of. That doesn't make her any less worth the time to write a blurb about, though, because personally I find her story inspiring.

Jeannette was born in 1880 in Missoula, Montana. Her parents owned a ranch and her mother taught school. She attended the University of Montana, graduating in 1902. After living in New York City and working as a social worker, Jeannette moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington. At this point, she became involved in women's suffrage both nationally and in her home state of Montana.

Women were granted suffrage in Montana in 1914. By 1916, Jeannette, now a Republican, had been elected not only the first female Representative to the U.S. Congress from the state of Montana, but the first one in the nation (national women's suffrage did not take effect until 1920). Jeannette campaigned on a platform that stressed the need for a woman's view in Washington and highlighted the need for social reforms in areas including child welfare and prohibition.

Only a few days into her first term, Jeannette cast an unpopular vote against U.S. entrance into World War I. She was one of 50 people in the House of Representatives to vote against the war. This vote put her at odds with many of her suffragist supporters, who considered their cause to be threatened by Jeannette's pacifism. Jeannette, however, was dedicated to her pacifism. In 1915, she was one of the founders of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

During her term, Jeannette not only maintained her opposition to the war, she also introduced legislation on midwife education, visiting nurse programs to reduce infant mortality, and state and federal funding for health clinics.

During Jeannette's first term in the House, her district was reshaped to heavily favor Democrats. Knowing she would not be re-elected to her House seat, Jeannette ran for her party's nomination for U.S. Senate. She was narrowly defeated in the primary and then waged and unsuccessful third-party campaign in the general election.

For the next 20 years, Jeannette worked in Washington D.C. as a lobbyist. She was a field secretary for the National Consumer's League, pushing for legislation promoting better health care, particularly for women and children. In 1920, she became a founding vice-president of the American Civil Liberties Union. From 1929 to 1939, Jeannette lobbied for the National Council for Prevention of War.

In 1940, Jeannette was elected to a second term in the House, this time on an anti-war platform from the start. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jeannette was the sole member of the House to vote against entrance into World War II. She reportedly said, ""As a woman, I can't go to war and I refuse to send anyone else. I vote 'NO'." Given the tiny minority in which this decision put her, Jeannette did not seek further office after her term ended.

In the 1960s, Jeannette once again returned to the spotlight, speaking out vehemently against the war in Vietnam. In 1968, she led more than 5,000 women, calling themselves the "Jeannette Rankin Brigade" in an anti-war march on the capitol.

Jeannette Rankin died in 1973, at the age of 92. As part of her estate, she left seed money for what is now The Jeannette Rankin Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to offering scholarships to women, particularly those 35 and older.

Sources:
U.S. Senate
University of California
Jeannette Rankin Foundation

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