History Bite

She who championed the 19th Amendment

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) went from Montana rancher’s daughter to first woman elected to US Congress.  Jeannette was the eldest of eleven children, received a public school education and proceeded to earn a college degree in biology.  She dabbled briefly in a variety of careers but circumstances sparked an interest in improving slum conditions, working with children and pursuing social work.

However, social work was unable to retain her attention for long but women’s suffrage did.  She became a public advocate supporting women’s right to equal vote and was such an eloquent and competent speaker that she became field secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

As the threat of world war loomed, Ms. Rankin, a strong pacifist, turned her attention to the promotion of peace and, in 1916, she was inspired to run for a seat in the US House of Representatives for the state of Montana and won.  She was not only the first woman to the US Congress but the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy.

While acting in strong opposition to war in the halls of Congress, she simultaneously bolstered support for civil liberties, suffrage, birth control, equal pay and child welfare.  By 1917 she enjoyed a strong presence in Congress so much so that she opened debate on the Susan B Anthony Amendment which became the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution granting women the right to vote.

Ms. Rankin suggests:

“Is it not possible that the women of the country have something of value to give the Nation at this time? It would be strange indeed if the women of this country through all of these years had not developed an intelligence, a feeling, a spiritual force peculiar to themselves, which they hold in readiness to give to the world.”

Jeannette Rankin was a Republican.

House of Representatives (R-MT)/ 65th and 77th Congress