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On This Day... in 1916: Jeannette Rankin Becomes First Woman Elected to Congress

Jeannette Rankin

On this day in 1916, Jeannette Pickering Rankin became the first woman elected to the United States Congress, remarkably before the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was even passed! Her success sparked a long line of women in Congress whose presence on the Hill continues to grow.

Known for doing things that women weren't supposed to do, Rankin graduated from high school and from the University of Montana with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. From there she attended the New York School of Philanthropy, becoming involved with the New York Women's Suffrage Party and then becoming a lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

A driving force in the Women's Suffrage movement, Rankin successfully rallied for Montana to grant women the right to vote in 1914. With the support of her brother, a powerhouse in the Montana Republican Party, Rankin led a campaign for a 1916 Congressional seat. Despite an early announcement by the press that she lost, Rankin wound up winning by over 7,500 votes.

During her time in Congress she helped to pass the Nineteenth Amendment, and as an ardent pacifist, voted against entering both World Wars explaining that "as a woman I can't go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else."

Rankin's legacy as a groundbreaker in U.S. politics has continued to shine on as a record number of women are currently represented in Congress like MAKERS Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina elected to Congress; Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to hold office as Speaker of the House; and previously, Pat Schroeder, the longest serving woman in Congress.


Photo Credit: AP