Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) was the first of seven children born to John Rankin and Olive Pickering, in Missoula, MT.
Rankin attended the University of Montana in Missoula, and graduated with a degree in biology. Afterward she became a teacher in rural Montana.
Seeking more from life, she moved to Boston in 1904 and stayed with her brother, who was attending Harvard University. The poverty that existed in Boston had a great impact on Rankin, as did the poverty she saw on a trip to San Francisco in 1907. As a result, she pursued a degree in social work from the New York School of Philanthropy in 1908.
As a social worker, Rankin joined the Children’s Home Society in Washington, but, discovering that she did not enjoy institutional work, she went on to study social legislation at the University of Washington. There she became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. As a representative from the Montana Equal Franchise Society, she became the first woman to speak before the all-male Montana legislature. Her work at the Society led her to participate in the New York Women’s Suffrage Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Rankin became the first female member of the U.S. Congress, when she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916. Her win gained national attention, and she naturally drew interest. She was vivacious and attractive, breaking the stereotype of the suffragette as old and scrupulous. She devoted herself to women’s issues. In 1917 she voted voting against U.S. participation in World War I, and later adopted a platform of pacifism. She lost her seat in the 1918 election, and then devoted her focus to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the National Consumer’s League. In 1928 she and Lucy Stanton established the Georgia Peace Society.
During the conflict leading up to World War II, Rankin ran for Congress again and won. On Dec. 8, 1941, Speaker Sam Rayburn refused to let Rankin speak against U.S. involvement World War II, and she was ridiculed for casting the sole congressional vote against the declaration of war on Japan. Her actions resulted in the loss of her electoral career.
After Rankin’s term expired, she traveled the world. She adopted Mohandas Ghandi’s approach to nonviolent resistance and remained active. At 88 she led the Jeannette Rankin Brigade on an anti-Vietnam War march in Washington, D.C. In 1972 Rankin was named the first member of the Susan B. Anthony Hall of Fame.
Source: "Jeannette Pickering Rankin." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994. Biography in Context. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, LC-DIG-ggbain-23835