Jeannette Rankin and her commitment to peace
The first woman elected to the US Congress dedicated her life to fighting against war and for women’s equality.
“The history of America’s democracy cannot be written without recognizing Jeannette Ran- kin,” says the Senate. In November 1916, four years before the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed the right of women to vote, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to the United States Congress. But that was not her only merit: she was one of the few politicians who voted no on entry into World War I and the only one who rejected the attack on Japan after Pearl Harbor.
She graduated in 1902 and six years later she moved to New York to start her career as a social worker. But her political career began in 1910 when she moved to Washington State to volunteer with a local women’s suffrage campaign. Her role there took her back to Montana, where she became an essential figure in the fight for women’s votes in 1914.
The Congressional race It was not an easy task to get into a Congress where all its members were men. But Rankin knew how to take advantage of her family roots. Her father was a farmer and her mother a school teacher in Missoula. The campaign was difficult in a territory where the population was widely dispersed and the majority of voters were ranchers and farmers. Rankin did not lose heart and managed to win votes by travelling miles and holding rallies at ranches or train stations.
Her jump to fame was also anecdotic. She caused such a sensation when she entered Congress that several marriage proposals showered on her In addition to being the first woman to be elected to the US Congress, she was also an essential asset in the fight for peace. Her vote against World War I made her lose her reelection in 1918, but that didn’t matter to her. She pursued her career because she had already decided to dedicate her political and personal life to campaigning for a better world.
In the next 20 years, she participated in the approval of different laws. Among other achievements, she secured public resources for health clinics, post-motherhood education for women, and the reduction of infant mortality. She went on to found the International League of Women for Peace and Freedom.
In 1940 she was reelected to Congress and one of her flags was to help end negative attitudes against women who, like her, had managed to become members of the Congress after a democratic vote. Only six other women were members of the House of Representatives and they received a lot of sexist comments. However, no one dared to direct these accusations against Renkin because one of her most famous phrases was: “I am not a woman. I am a member of Congress.”
A year later, in 1941, Japan attacked the Pearl Harbor base and the United States broke its non-interference policy to enter World War II. But through it all, Rankin held firm to her anti-war thoughts. She turned out to be the only member of Congress who voted against declaring war on Japan.
Rankin died in 1973. Since then, the number of women in the United States Congress and Senate has been growing, although in the six years following her death there was not a single female senator. We would have to wait until 1992 to see two women in the Senate at the same time.