History books are full of the deeds of men – both good and bad. But what about the women? Surprisingly women have accomplished a great deal that has never really been given the attention it deserves.
Yesterday I wrote about the women who helped break the codes of the Axis forces in World War II. If you did not read that post, I encourage you to do so. I also mentioned a book that gives much more detail about these thousands of women who helped us achieve victory in that war.
While these women were working to help win the war, another woman created a lot of controversy in her lack of support for the war.
Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to the United States Congress. She was elected in 1916 four years before the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.
The 19th Amendment did not give women the right to vote, it guaranteed them the right to vote. Before passage of the amendment, women in many states already had the right to vote. Montana was one of those states and thus was the first state to send a woman to Congress.
The following states granted women the right to vote prior to the 19th Amendment:
1896 Utah, Idaho
1912 Arizona, Kansas, Oregon
1914 Montana, Nevada
1917 New York
1918 Michigan, Oklahoma, South Dakota
A native of Montana Rankins was an activist for much of the 20th century and a heroine to the feminists in the 1960’s.
Her first vote in the House of Representatives – the first cast by any woman – was to vote against a declaration of war against Germany in 1917. That time she was joined by 50 in the House and six in the Senate in opposing the war.
Years later she was the lone member of Congress who voted against Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration of war against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. That vote cost her political career.
In retirement she became a world traveler meeting many leaders of other countries. She also spoke on women’s rights, called for election reform, and continued to advocate for legislation to protect children.
As a member of Congress, she had sponsored a bill with Senator Joseph Robinson to provide much needed health care for mothers and children.
During hearings on the bill a Dr. Howe objected that women should quit fighting for the vote and stay home and take care of their children. He said babies were even born blind because their mothers did not have the sense to use silver nitrate to prevent the blindness.
Jeanette Rankin: “How do you expect women to know this disease when you do not feel it proper to call it by its correct name? Do they not in some states have legislation which prevents women from knowing these diseases and only recently….were women permitted in medical schools. You yourself, from your actions, believe it is not possible for women to know the names of these diseases.”
Dr. Howe: “I did not like to use the word ‘gonorrhea’.”
Jeanette Rankin: “Do you think anything should shock a woman as much as blind children? Do you not think they ought to be hardened enough to stand the name of a disease when they must stand the fact that children are blind?”
While I personally did not agree with a lot of her political and social stands, I was impressed by what she accomplished as a single woman in that time of history in the USA. Interesting that we do not hear much about this first woman elected to Congress. Think you might enjoy learning more. You can – take a look at this interesting and controversial woman in the book “Jeanette Rankin – America’s Conscience” by Norma Smith.
(Details of interaction between Rankin and Howe are found in the Montana Historical Society Archives)