Woman in Politics


Jeannette Rankin speaking.
Jeannette Rankin addressing a suffragette rally, April 2, 1917. Library of Congress photo

Lately two female members of Congress have been in the news quite a bit in connection with the health care insurance debate.  This takes us right back to where it all started, with Representative Jeanette Rankin of Montana, first woman elected to Congress.

Neonatal and maternal health was one of Jeannette Rankin’s lifelong interests, and both during, between and after her two terms in Congress she campaigned tirelessly for better healthcare for women and children—so it’s particularly fitting that female officeholders have again made their voices heard across the land.

Several western states (and some western Territories, even prior to statehood) very early granted women the right to fully participate in political life, including voting and holding office, so Representative Rankin’s position was anomalous:  she was a member of Congress at a time when most US women weren’t even allowed to vote.  She first came to prominence as a suffragette, and a powerfully persuasive one:  she spearheaded the successful campaigns to allow women to vote in state elections in Washington (1910) and Montana (1914) before finally winning a seat in Montana’s Congressional delegation, where she continued to fight for universal suffrage (culminating in the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920).

Jeannette Rankin is most famous for her resolute pacificism, but she herself disagreed with that popular idea:  in her own mind, her pacifism arose from her radical feminist convictions.

In a 1972 interview, Jeannette Rankin had this to say:

“If I am remembered for no other act, I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.”

Full circle, indeed.

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