April 2, 1917 – The First Woman Assumes Her Seat in the U.S. House of Representatives

Jeannette Pickering Rankin, born in 1880, was the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress, initially in 1916 and again in 1940. She represented the state of Montana. It is no accident that her two successful elections coincided with the threat of U.S. engagement in world wars. Rankin was a pacifist, and strongly opposed any war.

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She was one of 56 members of Congress who voted against entry into World War I in 1917, and the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Her vote caused such an uproar in the House that she hid in a nearby phone booth until she was rescued by the United States Capitol Police. Two days later when a similar war declaration against Germany and Italy came to vote, Rankin abstained. Her political career effectively over, she retired in 1942 rather than face a near-certain re-election defeat.

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Rankin was also active in the movement for women’s rights, and believed that the warlike behavior of nations was a result of the dearth of females in government.

Between and after her service in Congress, Rankin lobbied for pacifism as well as social welfare programs for women and children.

She died on May 18, 1973 at age 92.

Rankin's monument in the National Statuary Hall, Washington, D.C.

Rankin’s monument in the National Statuary Hall, Washington, D.C.

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