Jeannette Rankin

Lived:June 11, 1880—May 18, 1973 (aged 92)
Career:U.S. House of Representatives, 1917-1919 and 1941-1943
Education:B.S., University of Montana

Jeannette Pickering Rankin was the first woman to hold federal office in the United States, with her 1916 election to the U.S. House of Representatives by the state of Montana. In 1940, she was elected to a second House term. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of 50 House members (and six senators) who opposed the war declaration of 1917, and the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Rankin was born on June 11, 1880, near Missoula, Montana, nine years before it became a state. She graduated from the University of Montana in 1902 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. After graduation, she worked in dressmaking in Missoula, furniture design in Boston and social work in San Francisco. She then moved to Spokane, Washington, where she became involved in the women's suffrage movement, helping organize the New York Women's Suffrage Party and working as a lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In February 1911, Rankin became the first woman to speak before the Montana legislature, on behalf of women's suffrage.

In the U.S. House, Rankin was instrumental in initiating the legislation that became the Nineteenth Constitutional Amendment, granting women the right to vote. In January 1918, she opened congressional debate on a constitutional amendment granting universal suffrage to women that passed in the House but was defeated by the Senate. In 1919, a similar resolution passed both chambers and eventually became the Nineteenth Amendment. As Rankin later noted, she was "the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote."

During her first term in the U.S. House, the Montana state legislature replaced the state's two at-large seats with two separate districts, and Rankin, a Republican, was in the strongly Democratic western district. Rather than trying to retain her House seat in 1918, she ran for the Senate but lost in the primary. She then accepted the nomination of the National Party, and finished third in the general election. After her term in the House, Rankin was a frequent speaker on behalf of the Women's Peace Union and the National Council for the Prevention of War. In 1928 she founded the Georgia Peace Society. She also worked for the National Consumers League and as a lobbyist for pacifist organizations.

Rankin was again elected to the U.S. House in 1940. On December 8, 1941, Rankin was the only member of either house of Congress to vote against the declaration of war on Japan, a vote that was highly criticized. On December 10, Rankin abstained from the vote for the war declaration against Germany and Italy. She did not run for reelection in 1942. After her second term, Rankin traveled the world, frequently visiting India to study the pacifist teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1972, she considered a third House campaign, but did not run because of health issues.

Rankin died on May 18, 1973, in Carmel, California.