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On International Women's Day, the story of Jeannette Rankin

In honor of International Women’s Day, I beg leave to resume a small crusade of mine to make the amazing story of Jeannette Rankin more famous.

If you know all about Rankin, good for you and you need read no further. Please tell someone else her amazing story today, for International Women’s Day.

If you don’t know, here’s a very short summary. Rankin was a Montana Republican who, in 1916 (before the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote) became the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (or either house of Congress). Just that should make her more famous than she is.

But Rankin was also a pacifist. 1916 was the middle of World War I, but the U.S. had stayed out of it. In 1917, when President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war, Rankin opposed it, which, in the heat of the moment, doomed her nascent congressional career.

But she remained active in politics and pacifism and, astonishingly, in 1940 she was once again elected to Congress on a platform of opposing U.S. entry into World War II. In 1941, after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war. It passed 388-1, and the 1 was Rankin.

(I’m not a pacifist, and I’m not saying I agree with her vote, but I truly admire her commitment to the principle that war is never the best alternative.)

This time, she was chased by a mob and had to take refuge in a phone booth until the Capitol Police could escort her out of the building. Yep, she didn’t win another term, but remained alive long enough to oppose the Vietnam War, and a group of women opponents of that misbegotten war named themselves the Jeannette Rankin Brigade.

She died in 1973, just shy of her 93rd birthday. Why isn’t she more famous?

Happy International Women’s Day.

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Comments (1)

Great Story!

Rep. Rankin was one of 50 members of the House who voted against the declaration of war in World War I. It wasn't necessarily political suicide to oppose that war, but she seems to have been singled out.