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For many years, women in the United States lived without
basic human rights, like voting or owning land and homes in their own name. Jeannette
Rankin transformed the future of women’s basic rights when she became the first
ever women to be elected into Congress. She achieved and overcame many
obstacles by holding a place in office during a time when many females could
not legally vote. When Rankin was in Congress she persuaded multiple states to
pass the law in order for women to have the ability to vote. Rankin also
endured negative feedback and was insulted for being a pacifist, but she showed
courage by continuing to fight for women’s rights.

            Rankin was born June 11th,
1880 in Missoula, Montana. Jeannette’s pacifism started at a young age; as she
grew up her father, John Rankin, taught her to be a fierce supporter of equal
rights. One of the concepts that Jeannette took from her family upbringing was
the instilled belief that weapons and war were pointless and could not help
solve anything and to peacefully fight for equal rights. Rankin went through
many occupations before she found her calling, a women’s activist.

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            Most women during this time could
not vote, and a woman running for an office in Congress was a challenge Rankin
overcame by campaigning more than any man before her. She visited all parts of
Montana, her home state, and gave multiple speech everywhere she went and sharing
her thoughts with those who would listen. She spoke about the importance of women’s
right and shared her negative views on wars. She made a promise to Montana to
represent and vote for them rather than represent the women’s rights causes she
came to care about so deeply. From this, she gained women’s votes from her
support with suffragist and men with the speeches that she gave promising to
better Montana. Rankin ended up winning by about 7,500 votes (Bright 37-38).

            Immediately when Rankin was
committed to office, she fought for her beliefs about the upcoming vote which
would ultimately decide if the United States would enter World War I. If she
were to vote no, the war would isolate suffragist and ultimately lead to the
loss of support from Montana and ending her career in office. If she were to
vote yes, she would have gone against her values and promises to keep as many
people as possible out of the war. Eventually she went with her beliefs and
voted no along 49 others. Because Rankin was a women Rankin she received
backlash from the community. She was singled out by a newspaper that claimed
she was not able to handle to feedback and cried and fainted during the process
of the vote. Rankin being a woman led to many people, men and women, saying
that Rankin was not fit enough to have a place in office especially since it
was a political position. From this, many people based their opinions on women in
political positions from the falsely reported newspaper article. (Bright 44). Her
vote for no made many of her suffragist supporters distance themselves and
avoid speaking on her behalf because they held a lot of embarrassment when it
came to how others looked at her. The result of this pushed her back in her
votes and unfortunately supported mens’ believes in the stereotypical woman,
who is weak and not able to emotionally handle herself in a political title.  Regardless of all the negative feedback Rankin
got, she continued to fight and represent Montana for their believes. Rankin
held her head up high when she was able to form what would later be known as
the Nineteenth Amendment, she spoke on behalf of all women saying, “How shall
we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted to
make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy
to the women of our Country?” Rankin went against being quiet and revolted by
questioning the point of women having to obey laws if they weren’t even given
basic rights such as voting.

It was in 1939 that Rankin continued her place in office
by continuing to support the people by trying to keep as many people out of the
second World War even though she knew she could not completely keep everyone in
the United States out.  Sadly on Rankins
part, the attack on Pearl Harbor caused almost every member of congress to vote
“yes” on World War II, and once again Jeannette stood alone.  She explained her position on voting against
the war by stating “As a woman I cannot go to war, and I refuse to send anyone
else.” Many people felt disgraced by her speaking against the majority vote and
in the eyes of many viewers she was not able to show support and patriotism to
the United States. She received threatening letters from former supporters in
Montana that suggested that she should resign from office and stop representing
their state (Bright Sky 14-15). As hard as it was for Rankin, because of how
much she deeply cared about other people she resigned but she knew that she
would not be able to go against all values and morals that she strongly held and
her pacifism had again injured her chances at political power (Political 77).

Although Rankin’s biggest downfall was easily her
opinions against war. Her hatred of weapons and violence was unconditional;
even an outright attack on the United States could not sway her vote to support
World War II. This led to her losing the majority of her supporters, but her
unrelenting pacifism lead her to show great courage and great progress in the
direction of women’s rights. “I may be the first woman member of congress, but
I won’t be the last” is one of the most famous quotes uttered by Jeannette
Rankin.

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