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RANKIN, Jeannette

RANKIN, Jeannette
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
1880–1973

Biography

In November 1916, four years before the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteed the right of women to vote, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to the United States Congress. During the first half of the twentieth century, Rankin served two nonconsecutive terms in the House which coincided with World War I and World War II. While she may be best known for her votes to keep America out of those conflicts, Rankin was also a tireless activist who worked to expand voting rights for women, to ensure better working conditions for laborers across America, and to improve health care for women and infants. Ultimately, she was a pathbreaker. “I may be the first woman member of Congress,” Rankin observed in 1917. “But I won’t be the last.”1

Jeannette Pickering Rankin was born on June 11, 1880, to John and Olive Rankin at Grant Creek Ranch near Missoula, in what was then the Montana Territory. She was the first of seven children—six girls and one boy—in a prosperous family. Her father, John Rankin, was a rancher and builder who had come to Montana from Canada. Her mother, Olive Pickering, had moved from New Hampshire to teach before marrying John Rankin and becoming a housewife. Jeannette attended Montana State University in Missoula (now the University of Montana), and graduated in 1902 with a degree in biology. She taught for a bit after college, and eventually apprenticed herself to a Missoula seamstress. During a trip to San Francisco to visit an uncle shortly after her father’s death in 1904, Rankin started volunteering at the Telegraph Hill settlement house. With a new interest in social work, Rankin applied and was accepted to the New York School of Philanthropy (now the Columbia University School of Social Work), graduating in 1909. From New York, she moved to Spokane, Washington, took a job helping children in need, and started taking classes in the social sciences with the goal of becoming a reform advocate.2

Rankin’s career in politics began as a student volunteer with a local women’s suffrage campaign in Washington State, preparing for a referendum on voting rights. In 1910, Washington became the fifth state to adopt women’s suffrage, and Rankin’s work on the campaign led to a job as a field secretary with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).3 While visiting Montana in late 1910, Rankin learned that a women’s suffrage resolution was about to be introduced in the state legislature. During a trip to the state house, however, Rankin discovered that the voting rights resolution was in fact part of an elaborate hoax. Rankin ended up convincing a lawmaker to introduce the resolution anyway, and in February 1911 she became the first woman to address the Montana legislature when she testified in support of women’s suffrage. Her efforts singlehandedly convinced much of the Montana house to support the measure, reviving the state’s long-dormant suffrage movement.4

For the next two years the NAWSA sent Rankin to areas where the need for organizational support was greatest. As a field secretary, she visited as many as 15 states—including Ohio, Florida, Delaware, Michigan, and Washington, DC. She organized immigrant women workers in Manhattan’s garment district after a fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 146 people.5 And Rankin coordinated suffrage groups in rural California; when the California referendum passed, the winning margin came from those rural communities.6 All the while, Rankin continued to lead the suffrage campaign back home in Montana. In January 1913, the state legislature passed a women’s suffrage measure and following a public referendum in November 1914, women’s suffrage became law in Montana.7

On July 13, 1916, Rankin, fresh off the suffrage victory, declared her candidacy as a Republican for one of Montana’s two At-Large House seats. By 1916 women in states across the American West had won the right to vote, and Rankin was one of many women running for office that year. Much of the country’s attention focused on Kansas, where close to 300 women were running for office at every level of government.8 In fact, few people outside of Montana even knew of Rankin’s candidacy. The Anaconda Copper Company, the largest employer in Montana, owned most of the newspapers in the state and deliberately ignored Rankin’s campaign.9

Rankin, however, proved doubters wrong. Her platform supported a number of prominent issues during the Progressive Era—including nationwide suffrage, child welfare legislation, and the prohibition of alcohol.10 With wide name recognition, financial support from her brother Wellington, and unparalleled experience organizing supporters and getting out the vote, she won the Republican primary in August by more than 7,000 votes.11

Rankin’s campaign style relied on the retail politics she had learned as a suffrage activist, meeting with individual voters and speaking to small groups across the state. Her campaign focused on domestic issues, and Rankin—a longtime pacifist—never backed down from her opposition to American intervention in the Great War, the devastating contest that had been raging in Europe since 1914.12 After one of Montana’s two Democratic House incumbents announced he would not seek re-election, Rankin strategically courted Republican men and Democratic women in the general election.13

Because Montana was so sparsely populated, election results trickled in over three days. But in early November 1916, news arrived that Rankin had become the first woman in American history to win a seat in Congress. Although she trailed the frontrunner, Democratic Representative John Morgan Evans, by 7,600 votes, Rankin secured the second At-Large seat by topping the third-place candidate—another Democrat—by 6,000 votes.

“I knew the women would stand by me. The women worked splendidly, and I am sure they feel that the results have been worth the effort,” Rankin said in a statement. “I am deeply conscious of the responsibility, and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to be the first woman to sit in Congress. I will not only represent the women of Montana, but also the women of the country, and I have plenty of work cut out for me.”14

In the wake of Rankin’s victory, a wave of press descended on Montana and put the Congresswoman-elect under a microscope. Reporters asked about her clothes and her recipes and debated the color of her hair.15 Rankin was also bombarded with requests for product endorsements, photographs, and marriage proposals.16

After her election, Rankin arranged with a New York speaker’s bureau to give a national lecture series earning $500 per speech—the equivalent of $11,000 per speech in 2020.17 But her plans were cut short when President Woodrow Wilson called Congress into session eight months early to address Germany’s submarine warfare and its attacks on American merchant ships.18

On the morning of April 2, 1917, the day the 65th Congress (1917–1919) was set to convene, prominent women’s suffrage organizations hosted a breakfast in Rankin’s honor at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. Suffrage leaders of all generations crowded into the ballroom to celebrate Rankin’s accomplishment and to try and repair old divisions. “I want you to know how much I feel this responsibility,” Rankin said. “There will be many times when I shall make mistakes, and it means a great deal to me to know that I have your encouragement and support.” A 25-car motorcade then took Rankin to the NAWSA’s headquarters where she spoke to an excited crowd. Shortly afterwards, Rankin’s Montana colleague John Evans escorted her into the House Chamber.19

As the first woman to serve in the House, Rankin was held to impossible standards and expectations. Ellen M. Slayden, for instance, the wife of Texas Representative James Luther Slayden, observed Rankin on her first day in the House and described the scene in her diary. When one Congressman after another went up to greet Rankin, “I rejoiced to see that she met each one with a . . .  frank smile and shook hands cordially and unaffectedly,” Slayden wrote. “It would have been sickening if she had smirked or giggled or been coquettish; worse still if she had been masculine and hail-fellowish. She was just a sensible young woman going about her business. When her name was called the House cheered and rose, so that she had to rise and bow . . . which she did with entire self-possession.”20

When Rankin and Evans were sworn in by Speaker Champ Clark of Missouri, the chamber broke out in sustained applause. Before the House recessed for the afternoon, Rankin introduced her first bill: H.J. Res. 3, the Susan B. Anthony amendment which would guarantee and protect women’s suffrage in the Constitution.21 

That evening, at a Joint Session in the House Chamber, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany in order to “make the world safe for democracy.” Three days later, the House opened debate on the war resolution. Rankin’s colleagues in the suffrage movement urged her to be cautious, afraid that her antiwar beliefs would make the cause seem unpatriotic. Rankin sat out the debate and chose to listen, a decision she later regretted.22 But Rankin was not alone: House Majority Leader Claude Kitchin of North Carolina and Frederick Albert Britten of Illinois, a major military supporter, both announced their opposition. When Rankin returned to her office, she found her staff arguing with her brother, Wellington, who wanted her to vote for the war.

Early on April 6 the war resolution came up for a vote. Sitting in the House Chamber, Rankin waited until the second roll call was called before she voted. Former Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois approached her. “Little woman, you cannot afford not to vote,” Cannon said. “You represent the womanhood of the country in the American Congress. I shall not advise you how to vote, but you should vote one way or another—as your conscience dictates.”23 When the reading clerk called the names of those who missed the first roll call, Rankin inadvertently violated House Rules when she responded with a brief speech. “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war,” she told the House. “I vote no.”24 The final tally was 373 votes for the war resolution and 50 against. The correspondence Rankin received from her constituents back home ran heavily against U.S. intervention in the war, but the Helena Independent likened her to “a dagger in the hands of the German propagandists, a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl.”25 The NAWSA also distanced itself from Rankin: “Miss Rankin was not voting for the suffragists of the nation—she represents Montana.”26

Despite her opposition to the war, Rankin worked to ensure that America’s troops had what they needed to fight. As the country rapidly mobilized, officials looked to Montana for its abundant coal and copper deposits. But when 168 miners were killed in a fire at a mine owned by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in Butte, Montana, in June 1917, the workforce went on strike. After two months of failed mediation, Rankin denounced Anaconda on the House Floor and again in Butte for its dangerous working conditions and its refusal to negotiate with the Metal Mine Workers’ Union.27 When a labor organizer was lynched in Montana in early August, federal troops arrived to protect the mines. Rankin concluded that to maintain the war effort the U.S. government had to seize control of the mines, and she introduced legislation authorizing the President to do so.28 Testifying before the House Mines and Mining Committee she described the extent to which the Anaconda Company dominated Montana politics and avoided regulation. “They own the State,” she noted. “They own the Government. They own the press.”29 While Congress failed to act on Rankin’s proposals, her fearless stand against the Anaconda Company gained her more support among working-class voters and reinforced the enmity of the state’s most powerful corporation.30

The war in Europe also had a profound effect on how Rankin worked to put her women’s suffrage amendment before the House. In late April 1917 she testified before the Senate Woman Suffrage Committee, and that fall she endorsed California Representative John Edward Raker’s proposal for a House Committee on Woman Suffrage that would allow suffrage measures to bypass the Judiciary Committee which had traditionally killed voting rights legislation. Rankin was named Ranking Member of the new Suffrage Committee when it was established on September 24, 1917, and after it reported out a constitutional amendment on woman suffrage in January 1918, Rankin opened debate on the House Floor and served as a manager.31 “How shall we answer their challenge, gentlemen,” she asked. “How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?”32 The resolution, which required a two-thirds vote in favor, narrowly passed the House 274 to 136 (with 17 Members not voting) amid the cheers of women in the galleries—the first time a women’s suffrage measure had passed either chamber of Congress—though it later died in the Senate. A year later, however, Congress passed the same suffrage resolution by overwhelming margins. After it was sent to the states, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified and added to the Constitution in August 1920. Women had won the right to vote nationally.33

Rankin’s efforts on behalf of America’s workers were not limited to the mines back home. In 1917 a constituent’s letter alerted Rankin to poor conditions at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the Treasury Department in Washington, DC; the Bureau employed a large number of women who were often required to work 16-hour shifts. Rankin investigated the situation herself, visiting the Bureau with a fellow Member of Congress. Pretending to be a constituent of the Member, Rankin observed the women working while Treasury officials concentrated on the other Member. Rankin described what she saw as “nerve-racking,” and hired Elizabeth Watson, a muckraking investigator, to study the Bureau’s treatment of its staff in greater detail. Watson reported that the Bureau’s female employees performed physically demanding and often dangerous labor over long hours while being subjected to verbal and physical harassment by male managers. Rankin publicized the report and met with President Wilson about the findings. As a result, Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo called a special committee to investigate Rankin’s report. After nearly 200 women showed up to testify to their working conditions, Secretary McAdoo immediately instituted eight-hour workdays at the Bureau.34

In late 1917, the Montana legislature replaced the state’s At-Large House seats with two congressional districts, one in eastern Montana and another in the west. Both Rankin and the Democratic incumbent John Evans lived in the western district where voters historically favored the Democratic Party. Although the redistricting bill had been offered in the statehouse before Rankin had even been sworn in to the House, she suspected politics had influenced the new district boundaries.35 “There are more ways of keeping women out of Congress than denying them the ballot,” she said in February 1918.36

Rather than run for re-election to the House, however, Rankin announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in July 1918.37 Under the slogan “Win the War First,” Rankin promised to help the Wilson administration “more efficiently prosecute the war.”38 In a major blow to her campaign, Montana’s powerful Nonpartisan League—which advocated to limit the power of banks and corporations— called on its members to vote in the Democratic primary, rather than the GOP primary. Despite efforts to recruit women voters, Rankin lost the August 27 Republican primary by less than 2,000 votes. In a twist, however, Rankin won the nomination of the National Party, an obscure third party, with 127 write-in votes and remained in the race. “If Miss R. had any party to back her she would be dangerous,” Montana’s incumbent Senator Thomas James Walsh said, clearly relieved.39 On Election Day, Rankin finished third with a fifth of the total vote.40

After leaving the House, Rankin remained active in the causes she had long championed. She attended the Women’s International Conference for Permanent Peace in Switzerland in 1919 and joined the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.41 Shortly after Rankin returned to the United States, Florence Kelley of the National Consumers’ League hired her to lobby Congress for social welfare legislation, especially the Sheppard–Towner bill, a version of which Rankin herself had first introduced in the 65th Congress. The bill, which became law in 1921, sought to improve hygiene education in order to reduce the mortality rate among infants and mothers in the United States.42

In 1924, after resigning from the Consumers’ League, Rankin moved to Athens, Georgia, which was closer to Washington, DC, than Montana, and where she found her neighbors more tolerant of her vote against America’s entry into World War I. She designed a one-room house, and went without electricity, running water, or telephone service. As her circle of Georgia acquaintances grew each summer, Rankin eventually organized a study group on antiwar foreign policy. By 1928 the group had grown into the Georgia Peace Society.43

In the 1930s, Rankin took a job as the congressional lobbyist for the National Council for the Prevention of War (NCPW). This kept her on the road, speaking at events and testifying before House and Senate committees. And at one point, she helped publicize the findings from Senator Gerald Prentice Nye’s investigation into prominent arms manufacturers—“merchants of death,” Nye called them—who critics blamed for dragging America into World War I, and who seemed ready to draw the United States into another global conflict.44 By 1939 financial issues at the NCPW and Rankin’s growing opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s foreign policy led her to resign.45

The looming crisis of World War II brought Rankin back to Capitol Hill. She returned home and in 1940 challenged first-term Representative Jacob Thorkelson, an outspoken anti-Semite, in the Republican primary for a seat in the House from Montana’s western district.46 After winning the primary, Rankin faced former Democratic Representative Jerry Joseph O’Connell in the general election.47 She received endorsements from eminent progressives, including Senator Robert Marion LaFollette Jr. of Wisconsin and Mayor Fiorello Henry La Guardia of New York City.48 And on Election Day, Rankin defeated O’Connell with 54 percent of the vote.49 “No one will pay any attention to me this time,” she predicted, almost a quarter century after her first victory. “There is nothing unusual about a woman being elected.”50

Unlike her initial term, when Rankin entered the 77th Congress (1941–1943) she served in the House alongside six other women, including veterans Mary T. Norton of New Jersey and Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts.51 Before the Congress ended two more women won special elections to the House.

Rankin was assigned to the Public Lands and Insular Affairs Committees which dealt with policies important to her western constituency. But the main debate in Congress concerned America’s involvement in the war raging in Europe.52 During deliberations over the Lend–Lease Bill to supply the Allied war effort, she offered an unsuccessful amendment in February 1941 requiring specific congressional approval for sending U.S. troops abroad. “If Britain needs our material today,” she asked, “will she later need our men?”53 In May Rankin introduced a resolution condemning any effort “to send the armed forces of the United States to fight in any place outside the Western Hemisphere or insular possessions of the United States.”54 In the fall, a close vote in the House on a measure President Roosevelt had sought allowing American merchant ships to be armed demonstrated that Rankin’s more isolationist position had traction in Congress.55

Rankin was on the way to a speaking engagement in Detroit on December 7, 1941, when she learned that the Japanese military had attacked the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor. She returned to Washington the next morning, determined to oppose America’s participation in the war. That day, December 8, after President Roosevelt asked a Joint Session of Congress to declare war on Japan, the House opened debate about America’s intervention.56 Rankin repeatedly sought recognition, but Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas declared her out of order and other Members called for her to sit down. Still others approached her on the floor, trying to convince her to either vote for the war or abstain altogether.57 During the roll call, Rankin voted no amid what the Associated Press described as “a chorus of hisses and boos.”58 On the floor, Rankin stated “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”59 The war resolution passed the House 388 to 1.

Rankin’s no vote sparked immediate and intense condemnation. As reporters and Members crowded around her on the floor, Rankin huddled in a phonebooth in the Republican cloakroom before police officers escorted her to her office.60 Friends and relatives reached out with concern and disappointment. “Montana is 110 percent against you,” her brother Wellington said over the phone.61 “I voted my convictions and redeemed my campaign pledges,” she told her constituents.62 In private, she told friends, “I have nothing left but my integrity.”63 Having taken her stance, Rankin voted “present” two days later when the House declared war on Germany and Italy.64 She quickly found that her colleagues and the press simply ignored her. For the remainder of the term, Rankin limited herself to issues of wartime fraud and the protection of free speech. She did not run for re-election in 1942.65

After Congress, Rankin divided her time between her ranch in Montana and her cabin in Georgia. She eventually resumed speaking engagements and grew increasingly concerned that America was exploiting underdeveloped countries overseas. Drawn by the nonviolent protest tactics of Mohandas K. Gandhi, Rankin traveled abroad, including to India. During the Vietnam War, in January 1968, she led the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, a 5,000-person protest march on Washington where she presented a peace petition to House Speaker John W. McCormack of Massachusetts. In 1970 the House celebrated her ninetieth birthday with a reception and dinner. And in 1972 the National Organization for Women named Rankin the “World’s outstanding living feminist.” At the time of her death, on May 18, 1973, in Carmel, California, Rankin was considering another run for the House to protest the Vietnam War.66

Footnotes

1Winifred Mallon, “An Impression of Jeannette Rankin,” 31 March 1917, The Suffragist: 8.

2Roger D. Hardaway, “Jeannette Rankin: The Early Years,” North Dakota Quarterly (1980): 63–64; Kevin S. Giles, One Woman Against War: The Jeannette Rankin Story (St. Petersburg, FL: BookLocker.com, 2016): 25, 33, 38–47; Robert D. McFadden, “Ex-Rep. Jeannette Rankin Dies,” 20 May 1973, New York Times: 65; Joan Hoff Wilson, “Jeannette Rankin and American Foreign Policy: The Origins of Her Pacifism,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Winter 1980): 30, 36; Louis Levine, “First Woman Member of Congress Well Versed in Politics,” 19 November 1916, New York Times: 4; Nancy C. Unger, “Rankin, Jeannette Pickering,” American National Biography 18 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999): 142–144; Wilma Dykeman, Too Many People, Too Little Love: Edna Rankin McKinnon, Pioneer for Birth Control (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974): 22.

3Hardaway, “Jeannette Rankin”: 65.

4Giles, One Woman Against War: 51–58; Hardaway, “Jeannette Rankin”: 65; Wilson, “Origins of Her Pacifism”: 30; John C. Board, “The Lady from Montana,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Summer 1967): 6; Levine, “First Woman Member of Congress Well Versed in Politics.”

5Wilson, “Origins of Her Pacifism”: 30; Giles, One Woman Against War: 58–59.

6Giles, One Woman Against War: 64.

7Hardaway, “Jeannette Rankin”: 65; Giles, One Woman Against War: 69–71.

8Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “The Original ‘Year of the Woman,’” 30 January 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

9John C. Board, “The Lady from Montana: Jeannette Rankin” (master’s thesis, University of Wyoming, 1964): 76. All other references hereinafter are to Board’s article by the same title, previously referenced in note 4.

10Board, “The Lady from Montana”: 6.

11Hardaway, “Jeannette Rankin”: 65, 67; Board, “The Lady from Montana”: 5–6; Norma Smith, Jeannette Rankin: America’s Conscience (Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 2002): 99.

12Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 101.

13Hardaway, “Jeannette Rankin”: 65–68; Board, “The Lady from Montana”: 5.

14Hardaway, “Jeannette Rankin”: 63.

15“Miss Rankin’s Vote a Personal Triumph,” 12 November 1918, New York Times: 4; “First Woman Member of Congress,” 12 November 1916, Boston Daily Globe: 62; “The Lady from Montana Is Entitled to the Floor,” 11 November 1916, Chicago Daily Tribune: 2; Giles, One Woman Against War: 107–108.

16Board, “The Lady from Montana”: 8. See also Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “A Womanly Woman with Womanly Ambitions,” 17 April 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

17Wilson, “Origins of Her Pacifism”: 37; Board, “The Lady from Montana”: 9.

18Board, “The Lady from Montana”: 10; Wilson, “Origins of Her Pacifism”: 37.

19Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “The First Congresswoman’s First Day: April 2, 1917,” 3 April 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Jeannette Rankin Remembered in Video.”

20Ellen Maury Slayden, Washington Wife: Journal of Ellen Maury Slayden from 1897–1919 (New York: Harper & Row, 1963): 299; Hannah Josephson, Jeannette Rankin, First Lady in Congress: A Biography (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974): 71; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 110. See also “House Wildly Cheers ‘Lady from Montana,’” 3 April 1917, Chicago Daily Tribune: 9.

21Office of the Historian, “The First Congresswoman’s First Day.”

22Rankin did speak in December 1917 during the debate over war with Austria-Hungary. At that time, she said, “I still believe that war is a stupid and futile way of attempting to settle international disputes. I believe that war can be avoided and will be avoided when the people, the men and women in America, as well as in Germany, have the controlling voice in their government.” See Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 84; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 114.

23Board, “The Lady from Montana”: 17.

24Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 76; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 112; Unger, “Rankin, Jeannette Pickering”: 142.

25Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 77; see page 75 for public opinion mail.

26Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 113; Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 66. See also Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Jeannette Rankin: ‘I Cannot Vote for War,’” 5 April 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

27Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 88–92; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 127–133.

28To authorize the President to take over and operate metalliferous mines in certain cases, H.J. Res. 142, 65th Cong. (1917); Mary Murphy, “When Jeannette Said ‘No’: Montana Women’s Response to World War I,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Spring 2015): 18–19; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Speaking Up,” 7 August 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

29Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 131.

30Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Jeannette Rankin’s Fight to Make Mines Safe for Democracy,” 19 October 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

31When the committee was established, there was a move to make Rankin the chair, despite her belonging to the minority party. See Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 93–94. On the debate, see Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 123.

32Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 97-98.

33Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 99; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 125–126. See also Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Jeannette Rankin and the Women’s Suffrage Amendment,” 10 January 2018, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, Women Must Be Empowered: The U.S. House of Representatives and the Nineteenth Amendment, May 2019.

34Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Jeannette Rankin’s Struggle for Democracy in Industry,” 16 May 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

35“Montana Redistricting,” 1 February 1917, Christian Science Monitor: 3.

36“‘Gerrymandering Me’ Says Miss Rankin,” 2 February 1918, Boston Daily Globe: 12.

37“Congresswoman Said to Be after Seat in Senate,” 28 March 1917, Christian Science Monitor: 1; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “No Woman Is an Island,” 19 March 2018, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

38Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 135.

39Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 135.

40Michael J. Dubin, United States Congressional Elections: 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998): 424, 428; Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Jeannette Rankin for Senate,” 25 June 2018, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

41Joan Hoff Wilson, “‘Peace is a woman’s job . . .’ Jeannette Rankin and American Foreign Policy: Her Lifework as a Pacifist,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Winter 1980): 44.

42Unger, “Rankin, Jeannette Pickering”: 142. For more on the Sheppard–Towner Act, see Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1992).

43Wilson, “Her Lifework as a Pacifist”: 40, 44.

44Wilson, “Her Lifework as a Pacifist”: 43. For more on the Nye Investigation, see Wayne S. Cole, Senator Gerald P. Nye and American Foreign Relations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962).

45Wilson, “Origins of Her Pacifism”: 40.

46Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 172–173. For a contemporary press account of Thorkelson’s reputation, see “Democracy’s Mental Dissolution Pictured as Nazi Goal in U.S.,” 20 July 1940, Christian Science Monitor: 15.

47Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 172–175; Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 153–156.

48Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 176. La Guardia and Rankin were both first elected to the House in 1916 and became close friends.

49Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

50Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 177.

51Office of Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Take the Spotlight,” 10 April 2017, Whereas: Stories from the People’s House.

52Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 157; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 180; Wayne S. Cole, America First: The Battle against Intervention, 1940–1941 (New York: Octagon Books, 1971).

53Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 180–181; Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 158.

54Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 158–159.

55Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995): 290–292.

56Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 160–161; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 183.

57Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 161–162. The Mutual Radio Network, which had broadcast the president’s address, continued broadcasting in the House Chamber. As a result, portions of the House debate went out live over the radio until House officials realized what was happening during the roll call. As part of a National Public Radio feature, Walter Cronkite reported on this broadcast focusing on the war of wills between Speaker Rayburn and Rankin. “The Lone War Dissenter: Walter Cronkite Remembers Pearl Harbor, Jeanette Rankin,” 7 December 2001, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2001/dec/cronkite/011207.cronkite.html. See also Office of the Historian, “Jeannette Rankin Remembered in Video.”

58Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 162.

59Unger, “Rankin, Jeannette Pickering”: 143.

60Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 162; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 183.

61Wilson, “Her Lifework as a Pacifist”: 47.

62“Jeannette Rankin, Who Voted Against War in 1917, Hasn’t Changed Mind in 24 Years,” 9 December 1941, Washington Post: 9; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 184.

63Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 184.

64“Silent Galleries Watch War Vote,” 12 December 1941, New York Times: 5; Josephson, Jeannette Rankin: 163–164; Smith, Jeannette Rankin: 186.

65Unger, “Rankin, Jeannette Pickering”: 143.

66Wilson, “Her Lifework as a Pacifist”: 43, 49n42, 50; Unger, “Rankin, Jeannette Pickering”: 143; McFadden, “Ex-Rep. Jeannette Rankin Dies”; See also Associated Press, “First Woman in Congress Dies,” 20 May 1973, Atlanta Constitution: 14A; Associated Press, “Jeannette Rankin, 92, 1st Woman in Congress,” 20 May 1973, Boston Globe: 87; Giles, One Woman Against War: 388–389; Associated Press, “First Congresswoman, Jeannette Rankin, Dies,” 20 May 1973, Baltimore Sun: A10; Associated Press, “Jeannette Rankin, Pacifist, Dies at 92,” 20 May 1973, Los Angeles Times: 1.

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Schlesinger Library

Cambridge, MA
Papers: 1879-1976, 5.5 feet. Includes correspondence, card files, financial papers, articles, speeches, pamphlets, leaflets, scrapbooks, clippings, photographs, tapes, and a film depicting aspects of her life. Best documented is her vote against World War II and the consequent public reaction, though both terms in Congress are covered. Other correspondence reflects her involvement in the suffrage movement, Vietnam War protest, election reform, and the women's movement, with information on the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Jeannette Rankin Brigade. News clippings make up over one half of the collection. Some family correspondence is included with Jeannette Rankin's sisters. An unpublished finding aid is available in the repository and on microfilm.
Papers: Jeannette Rankin Letters, March 9-May 18, 1917, 1 folder. Letters to Jeannette Rankin in support of her vote against U.S. participation in World War I. An unpublished finding aid is available in the repository.
Papers: 1941-1945, 1 folder. The collection includes three letters and two postcards to Beall Gantt Booth, most concern peace. Also includes two photographs of unidentified children and a copy of Jeannette Rankin's remarks concerning Pearl Harbor in the Congressional Record, December 8, 1942. An unpublished finding aid is available in the repository.
Papers: 1961-1971, 1 folder. The collection contains two clippings dating 1961 and 1966, and a photograph taken on her arrival in India for a conference of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1971. A finding aid is available in the repository and on microfilm.
Papers: 1973, 2 folders. The collection includes news clippings on Jeannette Rankin, and letter to Louise Koelz. The collections is on microfilm. A finding aid is available in the repository and on microfilm.
Papers: In the Hannah (Geffen) Josephson Papers, 1969-1974, 2 folders. Correspondence, speeches, articles, and programs, of or relating to Jeannette Rankin. An unpublished finding aid is available in the repository.
Papers: In the Harriet Yarrow Papers, ca. 1943-1974, 1 folder. Correspondents include Jeannette Rankin. An unpublished finding aid is available in the repository.
Papers: 1915-1965, 7 reels of microfilm. Includes copies of materials in the Montana Historical Society. A finding aid is available in the repository.

Library of Congress
Manuscript Division

Washington, DC
Oral History: In the Oral history collection of the Bancroft Library Regional Oral History Office, 1959-1979, 3.2 linear feet. Interviews include Jeannette Rankin.

Montana Historical Society

Helena, MT
Papers: 1917-1963, 5.5 linear feet. Papers consist primarily of correspondence reflecting concerns Jeannette Rankin's of constituents. Also included in the papers are subject files documenting: appointments to military academies, invitations, and requests for government brochures. There is also some personal correspondence, some financial records, news clippings, maps, and photographs. A finding aid is available in the repository.
Papers: 1971, 1/10 cubic foot. One letter concerning suffrage and anti-war activities and one photograph.
Papers: 1917-1942. Microfilm of originals privately owned; includes correspondence, speeches, clippings, and miscellany.
Papers: In the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Montana State Central Committee records, 1913-1919, 1/10 foot.
Oral History: In the General Montana History Collection, 1963, 3 audio tapes. An interview with Jeannette Rankin by John C. Board on August 29, 1963 in Great Falls, Montana. Topics covered include Jeannette Rankins political campaigns and elections, her role in Congress, women's suffrage, the peace movement, and World War I and World War II.
Oral History: In the General Montana History Collection, 1972, 293 pages. An transcript of the original interview with Jeannette Rankin by Malca Chall from June through August, 1972. The interview was conducted as part of the University of California-Berkeley's Suffragists Oral History Project. In the interview, Jeannette Rankin discusses her role in national politics during World War I and World War II, the women's rights movement, and pacifism. Additional materials include photographs, copies of news clippings, magazine articles, and her writings.
Papers: In the Norman Winestine Papers, 1882-1995, 2.5 linear feet. Subjects covered include Jeannette Rankin.

New York Public Library

New York, NY
Papers: In the Gwendolen Haste Papers, 1900-1964, 3 linear feet. Subjects covered include Jeannette Rankin. A finding aid is available in the repository.
Papers: In the Jeannette Rankin Brigade records 1967-1968, 0.7 linear foot. The records include correspondence, minutes of the steering committee, press releases, petitions to Congress, and reports of the political and legal action workshops. Also, minutes and press releases of the National Women's Emergency Coalition (the successor to the Jeannette Rankin Brigade); position papers on the Vietnam War by the National Council of Jewish Women, the YWCA and the Paris Conference of Women to End the War in Vietnam; and two scrapbooks of press clippings about Jeannette Rankin's activities.

Swarthmore College
Peace Collection, McCabe Library

Swarthmore, PA
Papers: 1917-1968, 3 linear inches. Subjects covered include Jeannette Rankin.

University of California
The Bancroft Library

Berkeley, CA
Oral History: 1972, 293 pages. A transcript of the original interview with Jeannette Rankin by Malca Chall from June through August, 1972. The interview was conducted as part of the University of California-Berkeley's Suffragists Oral History Project. In the interview, Jeannette Rankin discusses her role in national politics during World War I and World War II, the women's rights movement, and pacifism. Additional materials include photographs, copies of news clippings, magazine articles, and her writings.
Oral History: 1972, 9 pages. An interview with Jeannette Rankin by Dick Cavett. This transcript is a photocopy of a typed transcript from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College. With this typed transcript is an announcement of her ninetieth birthday on a Huntley and Brinkely news telecast on June 11, 1970.

University of Montana-Missoula
K. Ross Toole Archives, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library

Missoula, MT
Papers: 1917-2009, 0.2 linear foot. The Jeannette Rankin collection is an artificial collection of various documents and items by and about Rankin pulled together into one collection by archives staff. Series I includes a 1917 campaign letter from Jeannette Rankin addressed to "Dear Friend," a 1938 anti-war campaign button, two 1940 election campaign buttons, and a 1980 invitation to the dedication of a Jeannette Rankin statue. Series II consists of pamphlets, form letters, and stationery related to Rankin's congressional campaigns and key issues she faced as a member of the House, 1917-1942. Specifically, there are mailings and pamphlets reflecting her views on U.S. involvement in World War I and World War II, as well as a bill relating to federal control of mines. A finding aid is available in the repository and online.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

Alonso, Harriet Hyman. "Jeannette Rankin and the Women's Peace Union." Montana, The Magazine of Western History 39 (Spring 1989): 34-49.

___. "'To Make War Legally Impossible': A Study of The Women's Peace Union, 1921-1942." Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1986.

Amaro, Charlotte A. "Across Contexts and Through Time: Jeannette Rankin, Feminine Style, and an Ethic of Care." Ph.D. diss., Wayne State University, 2000.

Block, Judy Rachel. The First Woman in Congress: Jeannette Rankin. Illustrated by Terry Kovalcik. New York: C.P.I., 1978.

Board, John C. "Jeannette Rankin: The Lady from Montana." Montana, The Magazine of Western History 17 (July 1967): 2-17.

___. "The Lady from Montana: Jeannette Rankin." M. A. Thesis, University of Wyoming, 1964.

Bonner, Helen Louise Ward. "The Jeannette Rankin Story." Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 1982.

Davidson, Sue. A Heart in Politics: Jeannette Rankin and Patsy T. Mink. Seattle: Seal Press, 1994.

Giles, Kevin S. Flight of the Dove: The Story of Jeannette Rankin. Beaverton, OR: Touchstone Press, 1980.

Hardaway, Roger D. "Jeannette Rankin: The Early Years." North Dakota Quarterly 48 (Winter 1980): 62-68.

Harris, Ted Carlton. "Jeannette Rankin: Suffragist, First Woman Elected to Congress, and Pacifist." Ph.D. Diss., University of Georgia, 1972.

___. "Jeannette Rankin, Warring Pacifist." M. A. Thesis, University of Georgia, 1969.

"Jeannette Rankin" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

Josephson, Hannah Geffen. Jeannette Rankin, First Lady in Congress: A Biography. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974.

Lompach, James J., and Jean A. Luckowski. Jeannette Rankin: A Political Woman. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2005.

Okura, Yunosuke. Ippyo no Hantai: Janetto Rankin no Shogai (A Single Dissenting Voice Against War: The Life of Jeanette Rankin). Tokyo: Bungei Shunju, 1989.

Schaffer, Ronald. "Jeannette Rankin, Progressive Isolationist." Ph.D. Diss., Princeton University, 1959.

Smith, Norma. Jeannette Rankin, America's Conscience. Helena, MO.: Montana Historical Society Press, 2002.

U.S. Congress. Senate. Acceptance and Dedication of the Statue of Jeannette Rankin, Presented by the State of Montana: Proceedings in the Rotunda, United States Capitol, Wednesday, May 1, 1985. 99th Congress. 2nd session. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1987.

White, Florence Meiman. First Woman in Congress: Jeannette Rankin. New York: J. Messner, 1980.

Wilson, Joan Hoff. "'Peace is a woman's job ....': Jeannette Rankin and American Foreign Policy: Her Lifework as a Pacifist." Montana, The Magazine of Western History 30 (January 1980): 29-41; (April 1980): 38-53.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Insular Affairs
  • House Committee - Public Lands
  • House Committee - Woman Suffrage
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Related Media

Lone Vote: Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin of Montana

Eyewitness account of Montana Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin's lone vote against the U.S. declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941.

Irving Swanson, Reading Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded July 13, 2005 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin of Montana

Eyewitness account of Montana Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin’s vote against the U.S. declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941.

Irving Swanson, Reading Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded July 13, 2005 Deed of Gift
Transcript (PDF)

U.S. Declarations of War in 1941

View a documentary featuring former House Reading Clerk Irving Swanson remembering the U.S. declarations of war in 1941, accompanied by historical audio and video footage.

Irving Swanson, Reading Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
Interview recorded July 13, 2005 Deed of Gift

Representative-elect Jeannette Rankin of Montana

This Hearst-Pathe News footage features Representative-elect Jeannette Rankin of Montana who is filmed visiting Chicago, Illinois, before heading to Washington, D.C. for the opening of the 65th Congress (1917–1919).
Source: National Archives Records Administration

Representative Jeannette Rankin Given a U.S. Flag

This Hearst-Pathe News footage features Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana during the 65th Congress (1917–1919). Sergeant at Arms Robert Gordon presents Rankin with a flag on the steps of the House Office Building (modern day Cannon).
Source: National Archives Records Administration

Opening Day of the 65th Congress

This Hearst-Pathe News footage features the opening day of the 65th Congress (1917–1919) on April 2, 1917, as President Woodrow Wilson calls Congress into special session to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. Suffrage activists escort Representative-elect Jeannette Rankin of Montana from the Sewall-Belmont House to the nearby Capitol. Speaker of the House James Clark of Missouri and Minority Leader James Mann of Illinois pose outside the Capitol, as police corral pacifist protestors on the East Front.
Source: National Archives Records Administration