Jeannette Rankin, born near Missoula, Mont. on June 11, 1880, was the first woman to hold a seat in the United States Congress. She graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in Biology. After Rankin earned her degree, she dabbled in a few things such as dressmaking and furniture design but she didn’t feel those trades suited her.
After turning down a few marriage proposals she decided that she wanted to run for the election in 1916. Her brother Wellington helped manage and finance her campaign. On Nov. 7th of that year she had won by 7,500 votes; a large margin for the small state of Montana at the time.
Rankin held a firm “anti-war” policy throughout her life. During her term, she was one of fifty members of Congress that voted against entry into World War I and the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
During Rankin’s Congressional speech in 1917 she stated: “I want to stand for my country, but I cannot vote for war. I vote no.” Some in the press called accused her of disloyalty for her opposition to both wars. This was not her intention, however. Sen. Rankin was simply speaking her mind and standing up for her own beliefs. This is no easy task for anyone.
She went on later to say in 1929: “There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense; for war is the slaughter of human beings, temporarily regarded as enemies, on as large of a scale as possible.”
Many Americans oppose military intervention in Syria. Jeanette Rankin was a woman that was not afraid to speak out for what she believed in. There is no doubt Sen. Rankin, when raising her voice in congress against WWII and being the only voice among the many took much courage. Those who voiced their opinion among the masses faced persecution at the time, but Sen. Rankin persevered to fight for what they believe in. It is important that people don’t simply keep ‘following the herd’.
There is something to be said for Jeannette Rankin and her strength as a woman in a difficult time. There is much to learn from her opposition to war in this contemporary situation in Syria. She is most certainly one of the pillars in America’s history as a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. No matter what the opposition may be women must continue carrying on Rankin’s legacy, voice our opinions and stand up for what we believe in.