Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, served two separate terms during the years our country entered world wars. She voted against war both times.
A pacifist and suffragist, the Montana Republican ran her campaigns on a peace platform. From the early 1900s until her health began failing in 1972, many of Rankin’s cutting-edge ideas became accepted, but many were still considered radical.
“I knew the women would stand behind me,” she said after her first election. “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.”
A few areas in which Rankin led the way:
- She took her work as a suffragist home to Montana in 1912, where she became the first woman to address the state legislature. Two years later, Montana passed a voting rights law, six years before women won the right to vote nationwide.
- She introduced the first bill in the U.S. Congress to grant women citizenship independent of their husbands.
- She wrote the first bill for federally sponsored new mother and baby care.
- She told her colleagues four days after taking her seat in Congress in 1917: “I want to stand behind my country, but I cannot vote for war.” She did sell Liberty Bonds and vote for the military draft.
- She cast the only vote in the House against entering World War II after Pearl Harbor.
- She led her own brigade as part of a massive rally against the war in Vietnam in 1968. Later, she called the war “stupid and cruel,” adding, “The people really aren’t for war. They just go along, but war is evil, and there is always an alternative.”
- She advocated election reforms to promote diversity. “Now,” she said, “we have a choice between a white male Republican and a white male Democrat.”
Bottom line: Are your ideas considered radical? Hold onto that vision. It sets you apart. Radicals are often the ones whom history looks most favorably on because they saw the future and were gutsy enough to draw it near.
— Adapted from “Ex-Rep. Jeannette Rankin Dies; First Woman in Congress, 92,” Robert D. McFadden, The New York Times.