Today is Jeannette Rankin’s birthday. If she were alive, she’d be 141, and she’d be for peace.
I don’t assume everyone recognizes Rankin’s name, although I’ve been on a long, slow, easily ignored multiyear crusade to make her amazing story more famous.
Rankin, a pacifist, was the first woman ever elected to Congress. She served two terms, more than two decades apart. She was first elected to a House seat from Montana in 1916, just in time to vote against U.S. entry into World War I. She also introduced a proposed constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote.
Her anti-war position was unpopular and she lost her bid for a second term, at least in 1918.
But, unbelievably, she made a comeback and won a second term in 1940, which enabled her to also oppose U.S. entry into World War II.
Considering that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor, the House vote was 388-1 in favor of declaring war. (Guess who was the one.) This time, Rankin’s “no” vote was so well received that she had to take refuge from an angry mob in a Capitol Building phone booth until the police could rescue her. She was not reelected in 1942.
Asked later whether she regretted that vote, she replied: “Never. If you’re against war, you’re against war regardless of what happens. It’s a wrong method of trying to settle a dispute.”
Rankin remained a peace activist into her 90s and into the 1970s, which meant, of course, that she was around to also oppose U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and to inspire a group of anti-war feminists to create an umbrella peace organization called the Jeannette Rankin Brigade in her honor.
She was thinking about a third campaign for Congress, as a peace candidate of course, in 1972, but fell ill with cancer, which took her life in 1973, when she was 92.