Photo is courtesy of stlouis.cbslocal.com
Have you ever been the lone dissenting voter? Perhaps in a small organization you belong to you refused to vote along with the majority. I have certainly been in that position. The votes I was involved in were less than a couple of dozen votes against my single vote. Today I will write about a vote of 470 to 1, although it was broken into two separate votes.
In 1880, Jeannette Pickering Rankin was born into a successful ranching family in Montana. Her father ran the ranch while her mother taught elementary school. Jeannette graduated from the University of Montana in 1902 with a B. S. degree. Over the next eight years she bounced around searching for a career that would gratify her. Even with a college degree she apprenticed as a seamstress and studied the design of furniture. Jeannette did teach school for a short time and then became a social worker. She studied at the New York School of Philanthropy in 1908 in order to qualify for social work, and practiced in both Montana and Washington State for a short time.
Jeannette didn’t like that either, so she quit and enrolled in the University of Washington. While she was a student she became associated with the 1910 campaign for women’s suffrage in that state which was ultimately successful. This was a turning point in her life. Jeannette worked in the suffrage movement, and this led to her career as a social reformer and pacifist.
She returned to Montana for Christmas of 1910. The next month a suffrage amendment was introduced in that state’s legislature. Jeannette formed the Montana franchise of a national PAC and organized to passage of the suffrage amendment. Despite her efforts, the amendment failed. However, the effort galvanized her career search; she was hooked on politics!
Miss Rankin became involved in the national suffrage movement and was a field secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). With the substantial help of this national organization she was able to have the suffrage amendment passed by the Montana legislature in 1914. In 1906 she ran for a seat in the United States Congress from Montana. Her brother Wellington financed and managed her campaign with the help of the Republican Party. She was well known from her suffrage efforts and won the election by campaigning for national woman suffrage, prohibition, child welfare reform, tariff revision and other issues. Jeannette took her seat in the House of Representatives on April 2, 1917, and less than a week later took part in a historic vote.
During her term she worked for and supported what would be considered women’s issues. One of these was independent citizenship. This was an issue because a 1907 federal law stripped citizenship from American women who married aliens. In 1917 she supported the miners against the Anaconda Copper Company. Montana was largely controlled by that company and it retaliated. She had been elected in 1916 to an at-large seat with votes from the citizens of the entire state. Anaconda had the state divided into separate congressional districts and gerrymandered Rankin’s district so that it was devastatingly a Democratic district.
Realizing that she would lose a re-election bid, she ran for the Senate instead. She lost in the Republican primary. Still determined she ran as a third-party candidate but was probably embarrassed at the results.
In 1924, Rankin bought a small farm in Georgia where she lived a rustic existence without electricity or plumbing. She did make frequent speeches around the country but was mostly unnoticed.
In 1940 she again ran for Congress from Montana and was elected. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked United States forces at Pearl Harbor. Seventy-five years ago, on December 8, 1941 President Roosevelt asked Congress for a Declaration of War against Japan. The vote was 82 – 0 in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, Jeannette was the lone dissenter, and the vote was 388 – 1. The historic vote I referred to earlier in 1917 was her vote against declaring war in World War One. She was the only person to have voted against war in 1917 and 1941. She believed that Roosevelt deliberately provoked the Japanese attack.