Jeannette Rankin: A Brief History
A bequest from Jeannette Rankin provided the first funds for Jeannette Rankin Women's Scholarship Fund. Jeannette was famously the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. While growing up in Montana, Jeannette worked as a school teacher and social worker, these occupations convinced her that women's suffrage was critical. She was at the core of the suffrage movements in both Montana and Washington state. In 1916 Jeannette ran for one of Montana's House seats, proving victorious in a very close race.
While in Congress, Jeannette advocated for women's suffrage, social welfare, and pacifism. In 1917 she called for the creation of a Committee on Woman Suffrage, which she was appointed the head of, and advanced legislation to give women the vote. As the Great War (World War I) became a more visible issue, Jeannette refused to support U.S. participation in along with 49 other representatives.
Jeannette took a step away from politics for a time, returning to social work and lobbying, and establishing a residence in Athens, Georgia. In 1939 she decided to join the Montanan congressional race once again and campaigned on the platform of pacifism and anti-war rhetoric. She won the election and returned to Congress. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Jeannette famously cast the only vote in the House against U.S. involvement in World War II. During voting, Jeannette stated, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” That evening she was chased by reporters on the way home, having to lock herself in a telephone booth until police were able to escort her out.
Following the vote, Jeannette decided not to run for Congress again and instead sought to discover more about the world. She traveled all over the globe, notably spending time with Mohandas K. Gandhi to learn about non-violent protest and peaceful demonstrations. Jeannette maintained her pacifist beliefs and spoke out against the war at every opportunity. She spent a lot of her later life in Georgia and continued to have a fighting spirit until she passed away in California on May 18, 1973.