WASHINGTON, D.C.- A week after the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the United States, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester took time on the Senate floor to remember a famous Montanan who helped make women’s suffrage happen—Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin.
Rankin, a Republican, became the first woman in American to hold a federal office when she was elected to Congress in 1916. Women in some western states, including Montana, had already gained the right to vote before the 19th amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified a year later on Aug. 18, 1920.
“Jeanette Rankin, who helped women in Montana and Washington earn the right to vote in 1914, three years before she became the first woman elected to Congress and five years before she helped pass the 19th amendment—making her the only woman to vote for nationwide women’s suffrage,” Tester, a Montana Democrat, told the Senate before reading a passage from her impassioned speech that she gave to the House floor more than 100 years ago.
In that speech, Rankin pleaded with men in Congress to give American women the right to vote, saying, “How shall we answer their challenge, gentleman; how shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?”
The House narrowly passed the amendment, but it was shot down by the Senate. Tester pointed out that Rankin had laid the groundwork, because 18 months later both houses passed the amendment.
Rankin was elected to Congress twice: once in 1916 and then again in 1940. Along with being an advocate for women’s rights, she was also a pacifist who voted against both World Wars— the only member of Congress to vote against World War II.
Rankin died in 1973 at the age of 92. She remains the only woman that Montana has ever elected to Congress.