Jeanette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress (on November 7, 1916) at a time when women lacked suffrage on a national level. While in office she did many things, her efforts included work on the 19th Amendment (ensuring a woman’s right to vote), giving married women citizenship separate from their husbands and legislation on government-sponsored instruction for pregnant and nursing women.
However, she was a passionate pacifist and when she (along with 49 other representatives) voted against the United States’ entry into World War I many believed it meant women were unable to be national leaders and she was not reelected and left Congress at the end of her single term.
That was not the end of her life in politics though, running primarily on an anti-war platform she won reelection to the House in 1940 where she shortly was asked to vote again on whether or not the US should enter a world war. Sticking to her beliefs, despite the majority of American’s outrage over Pearl Harbor, she again voted against war, famously saying, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else,” an act that ended her political career.
She continued to advocate pacifism through the rest of her life and even led a march on Washington in her eighties to protest the war in Vietnam. Jeannette Rankin died in 1973 at the age of 93 and will always be remembered for her tireless work for women’s suffrage, her pacifist beliefs and for being a groundbreaking legislator, as both the first woman in Congress and the only person to vote against both world wars.