For Jeannette, a peaceful stance was a vote and a way of life. Born on the frontier in Montana in 1880, Jeannette grew up with a love for nature, determination, and an understanding of the importance of cooperation that came with frontier life. But she also experienced much violence and wars with Native American tribes. This led her to a lifetime commitment to pacificism, which for her meant “committing oneself to settlement of disputes by peaceful means.”
From her upbringing on the frontier, Jeannette attended the University of Montana and the New York School of Philanthropy, becoming a social worker after completing her studies. And it was during these early work years that Jeannette’s political career began. She became active in the suffragist movement, speaking out to help bring change. “It is beautiful and right that a mother should nurse her child through typhoid fever, but it is also beautiful and right that she should have a voice in regulating the milk supply from which typhoid fever resulted,” Jeannette said in a 1911 address to the Montana State Legislature.
Advocating for change led her to campaign for office. When running in 1916, her platform focused on suffrage and social welfare. When elected, she said, “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.”
Jeannette served one term and then ran for a Senate seat after her district was gerrymandered – a practice where electoral boundaries are manipulated to favor one party over another. She lost. Her spirit for pacifism and equality, however, remained unchanged. While no longer in office, Jeannette continued working for peace movements. She joined peace organizations and traveled around the country advocating for initiatives.
As world changes began happening in the late 1930s, Jeannette thought she could be more effective in advocating for peace in Congress again. And so she ran for office. “This woman has more courage and packs a harder punch than a regiment of regular line politicians,” said a fellow politician about Jeannette during this time.
Jeannette was elected to the House of Representatives in 1940, where she once again served one term and once more voted against the U.S. entering a world war. This time, however, she was the only objecting vote. Years later, John F. Kennedy wrote about Jeannette, “Few members of Congress have ever stood more alone while being true to a higher honor and loyalty.”
Jeanette continued advocating for peace until she passed away in 1973.
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- This story was updated on March 15th, 2023.
- Harris, Ted C. “Jeannette Rankin in Georgia.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 1, 1974, pp. 55–78. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40579668. Accessed 5 Apr. 2021.
- Bain News Service, Publisher. Jeannette Rankin. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2014704009/> Wikimedia Commons (restored by Adam Cuerden)
- “Jeannette Rankin (Speaking in Congress, 1918 – In Women at the Podium: Memorable Speeches in History (2000)).” Wikiquote, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jeannette_Rankin
- National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Margaret Sterling Brooke – NPG.86.8
- Alonso, Harriet Hyman. “Jeannette Rankin and the Women’s Peace Union.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, vol. 39, no. 2, 1989, pp. 34–49. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4519215. Accessed 14 Mar. 2023.
- Murphy, Mary. “When Jeannette Said ‘No’: Montana Women’s Response to World War I.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, vol. 65, no. 1, 2015, pp. 3–94. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24420046. Accessed 15 Mar. 2023.
- Jeannette Rankin. Aug. 1. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004672791/>.