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Women and politics: the amazing tale of Jeannette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin
Library of CongressJeannette Rankin

According to an outfit called Representation 2020, five out of 50 states currently have women governors. According to the U.S. Census, women make up 51 percent of the population, but 10 percent of the governors.

Of the nation’s 100 largest cities, 12 have a female mayor. Women make up 18 percent of Congress and a quarter of state legislators.

The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote everywhere in the country (many states had already granted that right), took effect in 1920. Representation 2020 is named for the upcoming centennial and says it is “spreading new and innovative ideas on how to get more women elected to office by the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.”

Minnesota has never had a woman governor nor a woman nominated for governor by a major party. The current lieutenant governor, Yvonne Prettner Solon, is the sixth consecutive women to hold the office, dating back 30 years. Three of our 10 current members of Congress are women, which is an all-time high.

I’m often surprised that the amazing tale of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman in Congress, isn’t more famous.

Rankin, a lifelong pacifist, was elected to the U.S. House from Montana in 1916 at the age of 36. She got to Washington just in time to be one of just 50 members of the House to vote against a resolution favoring U.S. entry into World War I. She was defeated for a second term. Then, amazingly, she won a second term in 1940 and got to Washington in time to cast the only “no” vote on U.S. entry into World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She was not reelected, went to India and studied the pacifist teaching of Gandhi.

In 1968, she led a march in Washington to protest the Vietnam War and was contemplating another run for Congress as a peace candidate. She died in 1973.

How is Rankin not more famous?

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Doug Gray on 08/13/2013 - 11:37 am.

    I was privileged…

    …to be present at Statuary Hall in Congress when Jeanette Rankin’s statue was dedicated. There are a couple of good biographies and a Montana Public Broadcasting documentary out there. A rare example of political courage who deserves to be better-known. To oppose U.S. entry into WWII, she had to stand up on the floor of the House, just after FDR had made his “date which will live in infamy” speech, and object to the motion to make the vote on the declaration of war unanimous. As you note, she was the only member of either House of Congress to do so, and lost her seat over it. A radio reporter in the gallery had a wire recorder going at the time so, contrary to the then-prevailing rules of the House, her shining moment was captured for all posterity. “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” is my favorite Rankin quote.

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 08/13/2013 - 01:57 pm.

    I remembering a little of the woman, Rankin

    Thanks for the reminder…

    Rankin was a woman my mother spoke of so often in glowing terms. As a child I often heard her name spoken with pride in our home….so the name registered again now, like a thought embedded in my mind. But her successes and influence on the times I almost forgot.

    Rankin would never have allowed so great a destruction to its neighbor state North Dakota; or Montana even, by the present insurgent forces; the F-kin’ Fraking for the sake of money and gas; no way .

    Land of milk-and-honey:
    North Dakota with a once a land of great sunsets but now polluted by smoke and oil…and generating also, the future contaminated water supply too.

    Better to be considered a fly-over state for those who have not the capacity to know the prairie in all its silent beauty with its almost treeless plains and coulees..all that which is now being destroyed.

    Call the state by another label… Dakota-stan now, for what has been so carelessly, arrogantly done to its once beloved landscape…

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/13/2013 - 08:54 pm.

    How is Rankin not more famous?

    A) She’s female.

    B) She was a pacifist.

    If nothing else, she’s a prototype for the notion that the exception proves the rule.

    Re: Ms. John-Knudson’s lament: I just returned from North Dakota (Dickinson, Medora, Theodore Roosevelt National Park), where U.S. 85 is being destroyed by big rigs (some of them 30-wheelers) driving north from I-94 to Watford City and Williston, and the reverse. The pavement has been grooved by the weight of the trucks to such an extent that the middle segment of each lane casts a shadow in late afternoon, and in some places, the pavement has broken down completely. Not to worry. Oil will pay for everything… for a while.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 08/14/2013 - 01:53 am.

    One bad vote

    I always admired the legacy of Rep. Rankin from the time I first heard about her in the late 60s. Pacifists in Congress are very rare if not impossible. But being the only vote against declaring war in 1941 was too much. We could have used more of her kind during the Bush 43 administration.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/14/2013 - 09:27 am.

    A pacifist in congress

    would be in violation of her oath of office. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;…”

    Defending the Constitution is defending the republic. Defending the republic when it is under attack from another nation is to be expected by the citizens she represents.

    • Submitted by Doug Gray on 08/14/2013 - 04:31 pm.

      “Governments make war…

      …and it is only by working through governments that we can end war. Claude Kitchener has said, `It takes neither moral nor physical courage to declare a war for others to fight.’ Sovereign power rests in the people. We must end violence in our own hearts and in our dealings with each other: and then we can resolve our domestic problems and will have found an alternative to war.”

      If this be treason, then make the most of it.

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/14/2013 - 12:54 pm.

    What …

    was her party affiliation ? I hope you can pass the test !

  7. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 06/08/2016 - 12:28 pm.

    Once upon a time…

    …there was a republican that existed in North Dakota…called Independent Republican . Too bad the “Independent” prefix has been screwed out of the label today.

    In Dakota way back when, at times, one could not tell a Democrat from a Republican…mix-and-max policy issues could say?

    “Populist” was another political label carrying a republican label I do believe…which would be called almost ‘lefty orientated’ today.

    Labels are not always what they appear?

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