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Posted on Feb 24, 2009 in Strange Congress

Strange Congress: Before women got the right to vote in 1920, she was voting as a Member of Congress since 1917

Back when Montana had two congressmen (now Montana only has one At-Large member) Jeannette Rankin, a woman, was on of them.

“I’m No Lady; I’m a Member of Congress” ~Jeannette Rankin

“I’m No Lady; I’m a Member of Congress” ~Jeannette Rankin


On November 7, 1916 she was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana, becoming the first female member of Congress. The Nineteenth Amendment, (which gave women the right to vote everywhere in the United States) was not ratified until 1920; therefore, during Rankin’s first term in Congress (1917-1919), many women throughout the country did not have the right to vote, though they did in her home state of Montana.

Jeannette Rankin was a professional lobbyist for the National American Women Suffrage Association and helped Montana women gain the right to vote in 1914. During the election of 1916 Rankin came in second, winning one of Montana’s at-large seats (the election rules are different today). She trailed the front runner, Democratic Representative John Evans by 7,600 votes, but she topped the next candidate – another Democrat – by 6,000 votes. Rankin had two advantages: her reputation as a suffragist and her politically well-connected brother, Wellington, who financed her campaign.

Rankin’s seat was redistricted and in 1918 after serving one term she decided to run for the Senate and lost. In 1940 she ran again for congress from Montana and won. An ardent pacifist, Rankin was the only Member of Congress to vote against U.S. participation in both World War I and World War II. The war resolution in 1941 passed the House 388-1. Rankin said “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

For more information check out the Office of the Clerk.

This post is part of a weekly series on, “Strange Congress,” dedicated to educating Americans about the parts of Congress they may not have learned in school.