Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Edition for Educators – Celebrating Women’s History Month

Jeannette Rankin/tiles/non-collection/w/wic_cont1_1_rankin_hc.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives 
About this object
Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a suffragette and pacifist, was the first woman elected to Congress.
“I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”
—Jeannette Rankin on her election to Congress in 1916

Jeannette Rankin’s life was filled with extraordinary achievements: she was the first woman elected to Congress, one of the few suffragists elected to Congress, and the only Member of Congress to vote against U.S. participation in both World War I and World War II. Learn more about the efforts and accomplishments of Rankin and other Women in Congress for Women's History Month.

Featured Resource

Women in Congress
Published in 2006, the third edition of Women in Congress, 1917–2006 documents the changing role of women in the institution, from no representation to advancing to party leadership. The corresponding website contains biographical profiles of former women Members of Congress, links to information about current women Representatives and Senators, contextual essays on national events that shaped generations of women in Congress, historical photos, and an education page for teachers. As of this date, a total of 298 women have served as U.S. Representatives or Senators.

Featured People

Mary Norton of New Jersey
For a quarter century in the House, colleagues knew Mary T. Norton as “Battling Mary,” a reformer who fought for labor and working–class interests of her urban New Jersey district. An apprentice with one of the most notorious Democratic political machines in America, Norton emerged from Jersey City as the first woman to represent an eastern state and eventually chaired four House committees.

Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts
As a nursing volunteer and advocate for veterans across the country during and after World War I, Edith Nourse Rogers was thrust into political office when her husband, Representative John Jacob Rogers, died in 1925. During her 35–year House career, Rogers authored legislation that had far–reaching effects on American servicemen and women, including the creation of the Women’s Army Corp and the GI Bill of Rights. “The first 30 years are the hardest,” Rogers once said of her House service. “It’s like taking care of the sick. You start it and you like the work, and you just keep on.”

Featured Exhibit

Florence Kahn: Congressional Widow to Trailblazing Lawmaker
In 1925, Florence Prag Kahn succeeded her late husband Julius Kahn in a San Francisco-based U.S. House seat. Most early congressional widows served as temporary placeholders until party leaders chose long-term, male successors. But Kahn was no ordinary political widow. With an insider’s knowledge of House operations and a gift for turning a phrase, she set herself to “attending to business”—expanding the Bay Area’s infrastructure and military installations during her 12-year career, while blazing a trail for women seeking political office.

Featured Educational Resource

Review a series of lesson plans on the women pioneers who served on Capitol Hill from 1917 to 2006. Based on the contextual essays from the Women in Congress book, the activities—designed for middle and high school students—incorporate historic photographs, objects, and quotations from women Members.

Featured Oral History

Felda Looper
In the midst of the women’s rights movement, Felda Looper became the first female Page in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her noteworthy achievement came after a vigorous and lengthy letter-writing campaign in which she pleaded with future Speaker of the House Carl Albert for an opportunity to serve as a House Page. In 1973, Speaker Albert appointed Looper. During her short tenure as a House employee, Looper recalled receiving a warm welcome from House Leaders, Members, and Pages.

Watch a video clip of Felda Looper explaining the significance of being the first woman Page to serve in the House of Representatives.

Felda Looper, Page, U.S. House of Representatives Interview recorded January 25, 2010 Transcript (PDF)

Featured Objects in the House Collection

Edith Nourse Rogers
Described in the Washington Post as one of Congress’ “most air-minded women members,” Edith Nourse Rogers prepared for a flight to Dayton, Ohio, in 1929, in this photograph. Rogers took to the skies throughout her career in the House, remarking that air travel saved time, was a comfortable means of travel, and moreover, that she enjoyed flying. Before commercial flight became more widely available, Members flew in and out of Washington-area military bases.

Bella Abzug, Life Magazine Cover
Charismatic Bella Abzug of New York was never one to back down from a fight. Abzug first won election to the U.S. House in 1970 for the 92nd Congress (1971–1973) on a pro-feminist, anti-war platform, and stayed in office until 1977. Abzug’s district merged with another in 1972, and she had to run against the popular sitting Member William Fitts Ryan to keep her seat. Life magazine featured Abzug in a story that June, and on the cover is a close-up photograph of Abzug in a moment of heated debate.

Featured Document

Tally Sheet for the Declaration of War with Japan
Before the installation of electronic voting in the House in 1973, reading clerks would call the roll of Members. Tally clerks then entered the votes by hand onto a tally sheet such as this one, allowing for near-instantaneous announcement of the results of votes. The sheets show the names of the Members and whether they voted “yea” or “nay.” This tally sheet shows the votes for the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941, taken after President D. Franklin Roosevelt delivered his “date which will live in infamy” speech. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to serve in the House, is the only “nay” vote.

This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.