Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jeannette Rankin

Hooray! It's my 100th post! Who has the distinction of being the subject of my 100th post? None other than Jeannette Rankin! Who is that you ask? Someone you should be familiar with, that's who! Rankin was the first woman to be elected to congress, plus the first elected woman to a legislative position in any Western democracy. Pretty cool, huh? How did she get to that coveted position? Well, after graduating from the University of Montana and working as a teacher, seamstress, and social worker, she, at the age of 30, joined the fight for women's right to vote in Montana."Men and women are like right and left hands," she declared. "It doesn't make sense not to use both." Rankin and the women of Montana got their wish in 1914 when Montana gave women the right to vote. Not being pleased with just being able to vote, Rankin decided that she was going to run for state legislature. In the end, Rankin beat out seven male rivals to become the first woman elected to Congress in 1916.

Congress wasn't exactly welcoming, however. The congressional wives were unfriendly, afraid she'd have designs on their husbands. The U.S. Capitol at that time had no bathrooms for women-there'd never been a need. To make matters worse, four days after she took her seat, Rankin made the extremely unpopular decision to vote against America's entry into WWI. Though she was not the only one to vote against entry into the war, she was still the object of much scorn in Congress. Despite the political setback, Rankin championed several causes during her two years in Congress: women's rights, birth control, equal pay, and child welfare. Her baby, however, was the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which she introduced in 1919 on the floor of the house. The Amendment, which passed and was ratified by the country as the 19th amendment to the Constitution, gave all women in America the right to vote. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted the amendment all the way back in 1878 and introduced it to Congress first. Public opinion about women voting had turned in the last couple years, which allowed the amendment to finally get ratified, with Rankin's help. "If I am remembered for no other act," she later said. "I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote."

Though the 19th amendment was a triumph for Rankin, her earlier anti-war vote had sealed her political fate. When she ran for the Senate in the next election, she was soundly defeated. That didn't stop her fire for peace however, as she worked in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the National Conference for the Prevention of War in the decades following her two year stint in Congress. Then, in 1940 at the age of 60, Rankin made another successful run for Congress on the slogan, "Prepare to limit for defense; keep our men out of Europe." Later, when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, FDR asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Rankin was the only person to vote nay. Her vote caused a near-riot in the House chamber. She was showered with boos from the angry crowd in the gallery and had to hide in a phone booth until the Capitol police escorted her out. She was the only member of Congress to vote against both world wars.

She never ran for office again, though she kept with her anti-war ways by leading the Jeannette Rankin Brigade-5,000 women in black-in a silent protest march on Washington against the Vietnam War. Before Rankin passed away at 92, she said, "If I had my life to live over, I'd do it all the same-but this time I'd be nastier."

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