BY: T. D. DUFF TONKA BAY, MINNESOTA
She was born in 1880 and became the first woman to be elected to congress. She started out her life as a social worker, but did not like the tasks she was assigned, and later in 1910 she became an activist for women's suffrage.
She eventually worked with Jane Adams and Emily Greene Balch at the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and with other peace and justice organizations. In 1968, she led a brigade in a protest against the Vietnam War, joining with Coretta Scott King to present a petition on behalf of Women Strike for Peace. She once said, "As a woman I can't go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else." The journalist William Allen White once wrote of her that, "When in one hundred years from now, courage, sheer courage based on moral indignation, is celebrated in this country, this woman's name, who stood firm in folly for her faith, will be written in monumental bronze, not for what she did, but the way she did it."
She was elected to Congress as a Republican from Montana in 1916, as the State had extended the vote to women in 1914. She campaigned for "preparedness for peace." She was one of the lone votes against the war in 1917. Her vote alienated some suffragists, who claimed it had set back the movement by years. Most suffragists thought that the "cause" would be better served if she had taken what they considered a more patriotic stand. Running for reelection to the House of Representatives was out of the question, in consequence of her antiwar vote.
She was elected to congress a second time in 1940, by again campaigning for American neutrality and American preparedness for peace. But after Pearl Harbor, when again a declaration of war came before her, she again voted no. She was the only member of Congress who refused to sanction going to war. Angry war supporters threatened her and reporters swarmed around her, at one point forcing her to take refuge in a phone booth in the Capital.
She was elected to Congress twice, by three generations of her electorate, and she claimed in large part, it was because of one powerful metaphorical story she told often during her campaigns for election.
In her campaign for election in 1916, her campaign would send out letters to schools, mostly one-room schoolhouses at that time, announcing the date and time she would be there. Her campaign left no return address on the letters so it was impossible for the schools to deny her campaign stop.
In speaking to those students, she told the story of a boy who was a classmate of hers from her young school days. It was a story the boy had told, who as a baby had been carried in a covered wagon across territory in which hostile Indians still roamed. Early one morning, the caravan heard Indians coming. There was a considerable number of them, women as well as men. The white men in the caravan ran for their guns. But the mother of the boy who was to become her classmate took her baby in her arms and walked ahead alone toward the Indians. When she reached the Indians, who had halted when they saw her approaching, she handed her baby to one of the Indians. Quite possibly, it was the first white baby they had ever seen. The Indians took this as a sign of trust and friendship. They handed the baby back to the mother, and went on their way.
She would say to the children, when she had finished the story, "You will not be able to hand your Senator a baby when he comes to your town, but you can do something to make him understand that you really care about abolishing strife and hatred among men."
In her campaign for the House of Representatives in 1940, she told the "baby of peace" story once again, this time to high-school students, and their parents who had remembered the powerful peace metaphor told to them 23 years earlier in 1917, when she was first elected to Congress.
Jeannette Rankin of Montana, was a powerful and fearless advocate for peace and keeping the country out of war. We need to actively re-enshrine and re-invigorate her VOICE FOR PEACE.