Happy birthday Jeannette Rankin.
Perhaps I’ve worn out this crusade, but I think Rankin should be much more famous than she is, and have tried to raise her profile from atop my wonderful little MinnPost soapbox, and a few years back I hit on the idea of writing about her on the anniversary of her birth. Today she would be 140.
Here’s a quick recap for newcomers to her amazing story.
Rankin was the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress in her own name (not just to serve out the last portion of a dead husband’s term).
Her breakthrough election to the House of Representatives, from Montana in 1916, was amazing and should be more famous. I won’t repeat the whole tale, but just the (amazing) highlights.
Rankin was a pacifist. In 1916, World War I was raging, but the U.S. hadn’t entered. She opposed U.S. entry and, in 1917 (on her very first day in office), when President Woodrow asked for a declaration of war she voted no. When she ran for the Senate in 1918, in the middle of the war, she lost.
For the next two decades Rankin was active in peace and justice politics – especially peace. She once said: “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquiake.” And, in 1940, with World War II raging, but the United States not in the war, she managed to once again win election to the U.S. House of Representatives. And, of course in 1941, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.
The House vote was 388-1 in favor. Guess who was the one. You guessed it. This time, Rankin’s “no” vote was so well-received that she had to take refuge from an angry mob in a phone booth until the police could rescue her. She was not re-elected, nor ever elected again.
But Rankin continued preaching pacifism, opposed the Vietnam War and inspired a group of anti-war women who named themselves the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, and she kept arguing against war until her death in 1973, shortly before her 93rd birthday.
I promised to keep it short, and I did. So there.