In this week in which we remember the American entry into the Great War, it’s worth remembering Jeannette Rankin. That may not be a popular choice for the week; it certainly wasn’t for Rankin one hundred years ago . . . or for that matter, seventy-six years ago.
Rankin was the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives. Montana sent her to Congress in the election of 1916, and one of the first acts of the session was to vote on the declaration of war against Germany. A life-long pacifist, Rankin voted against the declaration, as did 49 of her male colleagues in the House and six senators. Rankin, however, took the brunt of the criticism.
Rankin returned to the House in the election of 1940, and served another term. This time, she was the lone member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war on Japan following Pearl Harbor. It was a move she did not regret, but it effectively ending her political career.
From Emporia, William Allen White disagreed with her stance, but applauded her courage. He wrote:
“Probably a hundred men in Congress would have liked to do what she did. Not one of them had the courage to do it. The Gazette entirely disagrees with the wisdom of her position. But Lord, it was a brave thing! And its bravery someway discounted its folly. When, in a hundred years from now, courage, sheer courage based upon moral indignation is celebrated in this country, the name of Jeannette Rankin, who stood firm in folly for her faith, will be written in monumental bronze, not for what she did, but for the way she did it.”
An article about Rankin recently appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: