Friday, April 2, 2010

In History: Jeannette Rankin

This is the 19th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Jeannette Rankin. Do you know about her? She's pretty famous: she was the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, which also made her the first woman in Congress (and, according to this site, "the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy"). She was elected in 1916 as a representative of Montana's first district, and served from 1917-1919. She also served in the House years later, from 1941-1943.

You might be thinking "wait, 1916 is before 1920, which is when women gained the right to vote!" And you'd be right, but in Montana, women gained the right to vote in 1914. (And actually, women in Montana had the right to vote even before Montana became a state; women in the Territory of Montana had full voting rights in 1887!)

So, Rankin was a pacifist who just happened to serve in Congress both of the times Congress voted on World Wars. She voted against both, and my understanding is that those votes are what ultimately led to her not serving longer. When she voted against the United States entering World War II, she said (emphasis mine):


"As a woman, I can't go to war and I refuse to send anyone else. 
It is not necessary. I vote NO."

She was the only person to vote against WWII, and that quote, to me, just displays absolute conviction.

But serving in the House isn't the only thing Rankin did:
  • She attended the University of Montana and graduated in 1902 with a bachelor of science degree in biology.
  • She later enrolled at the University of Washington, where she joined the suffrage cause.
  • In 1912 she became the field secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
  • In 1918, and again in 1919, she introduced legislation to provide state and federal funds for health clinics, midwife education, and visiting nurse programs in an effort to reduce the nation's infant mortality.
  • While serving as a field secretary for the National Consumers' League, she campaigned for legislation to promote maternal and child health care.
  • As a lobbyist (a job she held for two decades), Rankin argued for passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act, an infant and maternal health bill which was the first federal social welfare program created explicitly for women and children. The legislation, however, was not enacted until 1921 and was repealed just eight years later. (via)
  • She was founding vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union and a founding member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
  • She gave lectures and interviews on women's rights, militarism, and disarmament, and led and participated in demonstrations and marches.
  • She traveled to India numerous times to study Gandhi's non-violent civil disobedience methods.
  • And so much more.
When Rankin died in 1973 (the above photo is from 1971), she left her money and property to "help "mature, unemployed women workers," and that became the Rankin Foundation, which is still active today, and which gives scholarships to low income women. The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center was established in 1986.

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