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A look back on the life and legacy of Jeanette Rankin

Jeannette Rankin
Posted at 7:30 PM, Mar 11, 2024

HELENA — Jeanette Rankin was a woman of firsts and “standing-alone” moments. She made bold stands on historic issues she believed in no matter the opinion of others. On this International Women’s Day, MTN takes a look back at the impact she made on the nation and right here in Montana.

Born in Missoula, in 1880, Rankin was the oldest of 6 children. Growing up, she worked on the family ranch taking part in farm and household chores, maintaining machinery, and building things.

In 1902 she graduated from the University of Montana with a biology degree. While in Washington state, Rankin became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. In 1911 Rankin was the first woman to argue for women’s suffrage in front of the Montana state legislature and in 1914 Montana gave women unrestricted voting rights.

Two years later she became the first woman elected to the US House of Representatives. This was 4 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, the amendment which gave women the right to vote nationwide.

A member of the Republican Party, Rankin was opposed to war as a method of conflict resolution.

And just 4 days after being sworn into Congress, she voted against the United States’ involvement in World War 1, an unpopular opinion that likely cost her re-election in 1918. After her time in D.C. Rankin split her time between Georgia and her brother’s property in Broadwater County.

She continued to promote peace AND worked to ban child labor and increase the welfare of women and children.

In 1940, Rankin made another run and returned to the House of Representatives where she was appointed to the Committee on Public Lands and the Committee on Insular Affairs.

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Rankin was the only vote against declaring war against Japan.
She earned the nickname “the original dove in Congress” for her staunch dedication to peace.

She left Congress after that term but again returned to D.C. in 1968 to lead a march of 5,000 against the Vietnam War to the steps of the US Capitol.

Rankin died in 1973. 90 acres of Rankin Ranch was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This land was also designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

A memorial stone in the Missoula Cemetery as well as a statue of her in the Capitol building stand to memorialize this prominent Montanan woman of history.