Radical Woman of the Day: Jeannette Rankin

On this day in 1917 Jeanette Pickering Rankin was sworn in as the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, representing Montana. Already a suffragist who had participated in successful campaigns to bring women the vote in Washington and Montana, she took office in Congress at a time when many women in the United States were still disenfranchised.

One of Rankin’s first major acts in Congress was voting against the United States’ participation in World War I. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of only 50 representatives who voted against the war resolution, saying, “I felt the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war she should say it.” During her later second term in office, Rankin also voted against the country’s entrance into World War II, and in this case she stood alone amongst the entire Congress and had to call congressional police for an escort when an angry mob followed her home after the vote.

Rankin held a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Montana and briefly attended the New York School of Philanthropy. She left her property in Georgia to be used for helping “mature, unemployed women workers”, and her surviving friends used the money from her estate to found the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund, which has given away over $1.8 million in scholarships for women’s education. A statue of her stands in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.