On this day in 1916, Montana suffragist Jeannette Rankin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives becoming the first woman in the history of the nation to win a seat in the federal Congress. Here are five things you didn't know about Jeannette Rankin.
She Was Elected Before Women Won The Right To Vote Nationally Rankin was elected to Congress in 1916 and sworn-in in 1917 after women were given full voting rights in Montana, but before women could vote nationally. Rankin played a leading role in advocating for women’s suffrage in Montana, delivering groundbreaking testimony before the state legislature and numerous speeches all across Big Sky Country. In 1914, her home state of Montana finally passed a law granting suffrage to women in that state. Two years later, in the very next federal election, Rankin threw her hat into the ring in a race for the U.S. House of Representatives. With the financial backing of her well-connected brother, she advanced out of the Republican primary and then came in second in the general election, good enough to secure one of Montana’s two at-large seats. No other female would serve in Congress until 1921, after the ratification of the 19th amendment enfranchised women nationwide.
She Cast The Lone Congressional Vote against World War II
You often hear about Rankin's election to Congress in 1916, but you rarely hear about her second election to Congress in 1940. Rankin was a pacifist and was so determined to avoid getting the U.S. involved in war that she even voted against getting involved in World War I. She was voted out of office two years later because of that vote. However, she was voted back into office in 1940, which is unfortunate timing if you're a pacifist. That's because she was sworn in just as the United States was about to enter another world war. And, once again, she opposed U.S. entry into that conflict, voting—the day after Pearl Harbor—against a declaration of war with Japan that passed 388-1 in the House and 82-0 in the Senate. The boos directed at her during the roll call vote were apparently so intense that she needed a police escort back to her office. She declined to run for re-election the following year.
Rankin Was a Vietnam War Protestor
Rankin is a great example of someone who does not give up. Even in her late 80s, she was protesting war; this time, it was the Vietnam War. In 1968, when she was 87, she led some 5,000 women dressed in black, calling themselves the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, on a march to the U.S. Capitol, where they presented an anti-Vietnam War petition to House Speaker John McCormack. Later that year, she started to consider yet another run for Congress. However, she died in 1973 before she could begin a campaign.
Montana Has Yet To Elect a Second Female Member Of Congress
While Rankin served in Congress twice, she's so far the only woman to represent Montana at the federal level. As of today, no women have represented Montana in the Senate, and Rankin was the only House representative. However, more women have tried to get elected; for example, the Democratic candidate for the 2020 House of Representatives race was Kathleen Williams. Wiliams however was defeated by Republican Matt Rosendale on Tuesday.
She Fought To Make Women's Citizenship Independent Of Their Husbands
In 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act. This act stripped women of U.S. citizenship if they married non-citizen men, but gave non-citizen women citizenship if they married men who were U.S. citizens. The "reasoning" was that non-citizen women who chose to marry U.S. citizens were supporting the country and making the "right" choice, but that women who married non-citizens were basically traitors to the country. Rankin tried to change this law so that women's citizenship was their own and not linked to that of their husbands. She did not succeed, but after women got the right to vote in 1920, they applied such pressure to change the law that in 1922, the Cable Act was passed, which would not strip a woman of her citizenship if she married a non-citizen who was eligible to become a citizen.