Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)

Jeannette Rankin was the first woman ever elected to the United States Congress, and a native of Missoula, Montana.

The eldest of John and Olive (Pickering) Rankin’s seven children, Jeannette was born June 11, 1880, in Missoula, and graduated from Montana State University in 1902. She then enrolled in the New York School of Philanthropy to study social work. After she graduated, Rankin moved to Spokane, Washington, to work for a children's home. It was here that she became increasingly involved in the woman’s suffrage movement.

In 1910 Rankin gave up a career in social work to focus exclusively on women's voting rights. The National American Women Suffrage Association sent Rankin as a representative of the organization to lobby politicians in favor of expanded suffrage to several states where the issue was on the ballot. Rankin returned home to Montana in 1911 to form a state committee for suffrage. This group worked tirelessly to ensure that the citizens amended the Montana state constitution to include women's suffrage. The organization achieved its goal when Montana women won the right to vote in 1914.

During this period, Rankin discovered that her true talent and interest lay in politics, and she decided to run for Congress in 1916 on the Republican ticket. Her platform included women's suffrage, laws to protect children, prohibition, and an antiwar position, all issues central to the Progressive movement which was then fully underway in the United States.

She was elected in 1916, before women nationwide had the right to vote. In 1917 she joined a handful of representatives who voted against entry into World War I asserting, despite harsh criticism and certain damage to her career, that "the first time the first woman had a chance to say no against war she should say it."

In 1941 she bravely stood alone in Congress in voting against entry into World War II, but she did not stand alone in society in her opposition to institutional violence and war. Her stand against combat as a viable resolution to international conflicts provoked questions on the basic assumptions about peace, war, and conflict, which we continue to grapple with today.

Her staunch opposition to war made her a spokesperson for veteran's rights, as well, believing they were pawns in the games of politicians. It was she who first introduced the GI Bill to Congress, which guaranteed post-discharge education and other benefits to those who served in the military.

Rankin put forth an alternate vision for this country as one which championed peace and justice. She worked tirelessly in opposition to battle and oppression by attending rallies, and giving speeches in person and on television into her 90s.

The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center of Missoula and the Jeannette Rankin Foundation proudly carry her name today. A pioneer Montanan whose life's work exemplified a steadfast devotion to peace, justice, and equality.


Website: Jeannette Rankin Peace Center

Website: Jeannette Rankin Foundation