Women in History: Jeannette Pickering Rankin

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

"If I had my life to live over, I would do it all again, but this time I would be nastier."

-Jeannette Pickering Rankin

Jeannette Pickering Rankin was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and was the first woman to hold federal office. A Republican from Montana, Rankin was first elected in 1916, and then again in 1940.

Rankin joined the women’s suffrage movement while at the University of Washington in Seattle. She later became a lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), where her efforts helped Montana women gain their right to vote in 1914. Rankin’s reputation as a suffragette, her progressive platform, and a campaign funded by her well- connected brother led her to win the second of Montana’s two at- large House Seats.

Jeannette was best known for her commitment to gaining the right to vote for women and her pacifism. During her first term, she started and led a Committee on Woman Suffrage, and was the first person to open a debate on the House Floor about it. Although her resolution died in the Senate, her passionate efforts gained support for the movement, and the committee was influential in the passage of the 19th Amendment. Among her more controversial moments, Rankin voted against both World Wars, being the only member of Congress to do so. Her opposition to WWI pressured the suffrage movement to distance themselves from her, as they were worried her stance was not representative of all women. Rankin also received heavy criticism after voting against WWII, as she was the only one to vote against war. After her second term, she continued to advocate for pacifism, and became an outspoken opponent of US involvement in the Vietnam and Korean wars.

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