She was elected to Congress before women had the right to vote, blazing a trail that continues today


  • Several firsts for women in politics were under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.
  • Some notable firsts occurred with women replacing their husbands in office.
  • In 1869, Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote and hold office.

Before the 19th Amendment guaranteed the right of women to vote, a suffragist social worker from Montana was sworn in on March 4, 1917, as the first woman elected to the United States Congress. 

The lifelong pacifist Jeannette Rankin, who campaigned for social and electoral reform, was sworn in on the same Sunday that President Woodrow Wilson took his second oath of office.

“I may be the first woman member of Congress,” Rankin said in 1917. “But I won’t be the last.”

Former U.S. congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R-Montana) prepares to leave Washington, June 2, 1932, for a speaking tour calling for a peace plank in the Republican and Democratic party platforms. As the first woman elected to Congress, she did not vote for war in 1917.

Rankin’s journey to Capitol Hill

  • Rankin, the first of seven children, was born on June 11, 1880, near Missoula, Montana, to a rancher who immigrated from Canada and a teacher from New Hampshire.
  • After graduating from Montana State University in Missoula (now the University of Montana) in 1902 with a degree in biology, Rankin briefly taught, worked as a seamstress, and eventually returned to school at the New York School of Philanthropy (now the Columbia University School of Social Work).
  • Prior to Rankin becoming a member of Congress, her role as legislative secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association helped Montana women gain the right to vote in 1914 — well before the 19th Amendment was enshrined into law in 1919. 
  • Rankin is well known for her staunchly isolationist beliefs, which were reflected when she, along with 49 other members of Congress, voted against declaring war on Germany in 1917. 
  • Rankin was the only member to vote against U.S. involvement in both World Wars and ultimately served just two nonconsecutive terms 


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