NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Jeannette Rankin 1880 - 1973
Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to either chamber of Congress, held to her pacifist beliefs throughout her life.
She was the only member of Congress to have voted against the nation’s participation in both world wars. She cast the lone vote in opposition to a declaration of war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her vote was so unpopular she had to call the U.S. Capitol Police to escort her back to her office through an angry mob.
Rankin believed strongly that women’s issues were inseparable from the peace issue. She accompanied Jane Addams to Zurich in 1919 to attend the Second International Congress of Women. While there, she co-founded the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom.
Rankin served two widely spaced terms in the House of Representatives. She was first elected in 1916 and was elected again in 1940, both times as a Republican from her native Montana.
In her first term in Congress, she sponsored a bill to allow American women who married foreign nationals to retain their citizenship and another bill to provide funds to educate women about venereal disease and birth control.
Building on her activist role at the state level for women’s right to vote, Rankin introduced the Nineteenth Amendment in Congress. The amendment was ratified in 1920.
Rankin had run for public office to effect social reform that would assist women and children whose plight she had witnessed first-hand some years before when she discovered the settlement house movement on a trip to San Francisco.
As a first step in effecting change, Rankin had turned to social work and obtained a degree from what is now Columbia University School of Social Work. She worked for a time in foster care in Montana and Washington State before deciding that institutional reform was needed.
Rankin’s longtime peace efforts attracted the most positive attention at the end of her long life. At the age of 88, Rankin led a women’s march on Washington in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Included among the 5, 000 women in the Jeannette Rankin Brigade were Coretta Scott King and folksinger Judy Collins.