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Jeannette Rankin

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“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

– Jeannette Rankin

The first woman to ever be elected to the United States Congress? Jeannette Rankin.

Rankin was born in 1880 on a ranch outside of Missoula, Montana. After studying biology at the University of Montana, she traveled both on both the east and west coasts, eventually deciding to attend the New York School of Philanthropy for a degree in social work. She soon became an activist in the women’s suffrage movement, first in Washington State and then returning to her home state of Montana, where she was the first woman to speak before the all-male Montana legislature. She helped to secure the women’s right to vote in Montana in 1914.

Her status in women’s history was secured in 1916 when she became the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. She went on to be the only member of Congress to oppose entrance into both World War I and II.

How much has changed for women in politics since Rankin first ran? Even though Rankin was first elected a little over 100 years ago, you can draw plenty of similarities between her career struggles and that of women politicians today.

Emotions are something we still invoke when we talk about women in politics, and Rankin was the first to bear the brunt of a male-dominated political system. For example, her anti-war vote in 1917 was seen as a sign of weakness and hysteria, The New York Times noted that on the day of the vote,”her appearance was that of a woman on the verge of a breakdown.”

Rankin stood by her beliefs and values and continued to fight for them. “She was an essentialist, where she felt that women are essentially different from men and that women contribute to society things essentially different than men and one of these things is peace,” Jim Lopach told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Lopach and Jean Luckowski are retired professors from the University of Montana and co-authored the book Jeannette Rankin: A Political Woman.

Rankin described peace as a “woman’s job” stating that “disarmament will not be won without their aid.” She became the first inductee into the National Organization for Women’s Susan B. Anthony Hall of Fame when she was 87, and in her acceptance speech spoke of the need for women involved in politics and the peacemaking process.

“Women must devote all their energies today in gaining enough political offices to influence the direction of government away from the military-industrial complex and toward solving the major social disgraces that exist in our country… We are here together to work for the elimination of war.”

She continued to be an advocate of peace through the rest of her life, protesting the Vietnam War and continuing to speak out. In fact, even at the time of her death, at the age of 92, she was said to be considering another run for the House in protest of the Vietnam War.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

September 11, 2018 at 12:31

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