Jeannette Rankin’s Historic Election: A Centennial Celebration  

U.S. Capitol

This exhibit was developed by the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center with content, images, and other materials from the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, Office of Art and Archives, and the Office of the Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives.  

We encourage you to go online and visit the History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives special exhibition on The First Women in Congress.

 When Jeannette Rankin took the oath as a U.S. Representative on April 2, 1917, Congress and the country took note. Nearly 7,000 Representatives had served before Rankin—all had been men. 
Explore the U.S. Capitol Grounds in Street View
Jeannette Rankin's remarkable election in 1916 occurred four years before women had the right to vote nationally, and blazed a path followed by more than 300 women to date.
Explore the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center entrance in Street View

To celebrate Rankin’s milestone, this exhibit provides ready access to teaching materials, oral histories, biographies, documents and artifacts that tell her story and offer a jumping off point to explore the 100-year history of women in Congress.

If you are in Washington, D.C. please visit the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall to see Jeanette Rankin’s statue and learn more about her story and the impact women in Congress have had on the everyday lives of all Americans.

Jeanette Rankin stands proudly in the middle of Emancipation Hall, one of Montana’s two statues as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection.

This bronze statue was created by sculptor Terry Minmaugh in 1985.

Early Life
Jeannette Rankin was born on June 11, 1880, near Missoula, Montana. Educated in the public schools, she graduated from the University of Montana in 1902 and studied at the School of Philanthropy in New York City. She undertook social work in Seattle, Washington, in 1909 and in subsequent years worked for woman suffrage in Washington, California and Montana. She traveled to New Zealand in 1915 and gained first-hand knowledge of social conditions there by working as a seamstress.
Elected to Congress
In 1916, Rankin became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. 

You can watch historic footage and memories of the first woman to serve in Congress at the U.S. House of Representatives' History, Art & Archives website

Woman suffrage was won in Montana in 1914.

In the first state election with women voting, the state elected the first woman in Congress.

First Vote Against War, 1917
Rankin’s service began dramatically when Congress was called into an extraordinary April session after Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all Atlantic shipping.  That evening, Congress met in Joint Session to hear President Woodrow Wilson ask to “make the world safe for democracy” by declaring war on Germany.  

The House debated the war resolution on April 5th. Given Rankin’s strong pacifist views, she was inclined against war. Colleagues in the suffrage movement urged caution, fearing that a vote against war would tarnish the entire cause.

Rankin sat out the debate over war, a decision she later regretted.  “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war,” she told the House. “I vote no.”  The final vote was 373 for the war resolution and 50 against.

Witness to History

For many years, gallery passes were steel engravings like this one, featuring a personification of Liberty.

She wears a liberty cap and holds the House Mace, the symbol of the institution’s authority. With Rankin's election, women moved from allegorical to actual presence in Congress.

Jeannette Rankin signed this gallery pass just two months after she became the first woman to serve in Congress.

The holder of this gallery pass witnessed the signal event of the 110th Congress’ opening.

Ninety years after the first woman took her seat in Congress, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California became the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House when the 110th Congress convened.

Re-elected to Congress
Rankin was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in 1918, engaged in social work for the next three decades. She ran and was re-elected to the House in 1940. 

This campaign button was the start of Jeannette Rankin’s second successful campaign for Congress during the looming crisis of World War II.

Second Vote Against War, 1941
Jeannette Rankin was en route to Detroit on a speaking engagement when she heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.  She returned to Washington the next morning determined to oppose U.S. participation in the war.  Immediately after President Roosevelt addressed a Joint Session of Congress, the House and Senate met to deliberate on a declaration of war.

Rankin repeatedly tried to gain recognition once the first reading of the war resolution was completed in the House. In the brief debate on the resolution, Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas refused to recognize her and declared her out of order.

Other Members called for her to sit down. Others approached her on the House Floor, trying to convince her to either vote for the war or abstain.

When the roll call vote was taken, Rankin voted no amid what the Associated Press described as “a chorus of hisses and boos.”  Rankin went on to announce, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”  The war resolution passed the House 388 to 1.

Unveiled in 2005, Jeannette Rankin’s portrait communicates both the cultural importance and the loneliness of her position as the first woman elected to Congress.

Standing in the empty corridor adjacent to the House Chamber, Rankin is depicted holding the Washington Post, in which her 1917 swearing-in was front-page news.

The vacant, cool-toned space and her look of resigned calm reflect her singularity as a woman in the legislative branch three years before women’s suffrage became federal law.

After 1942
Jeannette Rankin did not seek re-election in 1942. Rankin divided her time between Montana and Georgia in the years after she left Congress. Rankin predicted that more women would follow her to Congress. 

In this U.S. House of Representatives oral history project, women Members from across the country give credence to Rankin’s bold words, recalling the many ways they made a lasting impact on the institution.

During the Vietnam War, she led the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, numbering 5,000, in a protest march on Washington in January 1968 that culminated in the presentation of a peace petition to House Speaker John McCormack of Massachusetts.

At the time of her death, on May 18, 1973, in Carmel, California, Rankin was considering another run for a House seat to protest the Vietnam War.

We encourage you to go online and visit the History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives special exhibition on The First Women in Congress.

If you are in Washington, D.C. please visit us at the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall to see Jeanette Rankin’s statue and learn more about her story and the impact women in Congress have had on the everyday lives of all Americans.

The official Architect of the Capitol photographs are being made available for educational, scholarly, news or personal purposes (not advertising or any other commercial use). When any of these images is used the photographic credit line should read “Architect of the Capitol.” These images may not be used in any way that would imply endorsement by the Architect of the Capitol or the United States Congress of a product, service or point of view. For more information visit www.aoc.gov.

Credits: Story

Special thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Clerk, Office of Art & Archives, and the Office of the Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives. Most of the object-related text for this exhibit was written by their offices, for the History, Art & Archives website of the U.S. House of Representatives (re-used here by permission).

Nik Apostolides, Deputy CEO, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
napostolides@visitthecapitol.gov

Farar Elliott, Curator, U.S. House of Representatives
curator@mail.house.gov

Jason Hendricks, Webmaster, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
webmaster@visitthecapitol.gov

Robin Reeder, Archivist, U.S. House of Representatives
archives@mail.house.gov

Matthew Wasniewski, Historian, U.S. House of Representatives
history@mail.house.gov


Rights and Reproductions
Please be advised that images from the House Collection are provided solely for educational or scholarly purposes. It is the requester's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the House Collection. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Requesters must make their own assessments of rights in light of their intended use. The House of Representatives is not responsible for violation of copyright by users of the images nor does it assume responsibility for any claims resulting from the failure of users to secure reproduction rights.

To request images of objects in the House Collection, complete the Request for Image Reproductions form. For additional information regarding use of images on this site, contact the Office of Art and Archives at (202) 226-1300, or by e-mail at art@mail.house.gov.
http://history.house.gov/About/Rights-and-Reproductions/

Architect of the Capitol photographs are being made available for educational, scholarly, news or personal purposes (not advertising or any other commercial use). When any of these images are used the photographic credit line should read “Architect of the Capitol.” These images may not be used in any way that would imply endorsement by the Architect of the Capitol or the United States Congress of a product, service or point of view. For more information visit www.aoc.gov/terms.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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